#InternationalWomensDay: Celebrating Women in Romance
It's relaunch day here at the PHS, and we've coordinated it so that it falls on International Women's Day! There's so much to celebrate in the romance genre, so we've asked authors, readers, editors and academics to share with us some words about how and why romance is so intertwined with the celebration of all different kinds of women!
Codi Gary (Contemporary Romance Author):
The romance genre is traditionally written for women by women. Now that romance has expanded to include the LGBQT community, things are slightly different, but the one thing that romance authors all have in common is we write strong characters. Whether the heroine or hero is a single mom, a CEO, a school teacher, Amish, or an assassin; by the end of the story, no matter what they have overcome, they are tough. They are smart. And they are admirable to someone. Which is something we need.
As women, we need stories that interest us, that make us feel good and help us through the tough times. I am not a doctor or an FBI agent, but reading about these women in high stakes jobs, where others depend on them fills me with a sense of glee and excitement. I don’t just experience one life but many thanks to books.
The authors who write them are as diverse as their readership which is why just reading is celebrating different kind of women. Every time we pick up a book about a heroine different than ourselves, we are learning and empathizing.
And that is definitely something worth celebrating.
Codi's latest release, Good Girls Don't Kiss and Tell, is the seventh book in her Rock Canyon, Idaho series. For more information about her and her writing check out her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.
Fiona Marinez (Vice-Chancellor Scholarship PhD candidate and Associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University):
The romance genre is profoundly important, both to its readers and to literary tradition in general.
As somebody researching the presence of the romance genre in contemporary women’s writing the lasting impact and influence of romantic writing is evident, and romance remains a genre which stretches beyond successful publishing strands such as Mills & Boon. Indeed, the use of the romance genre is changing constantly and as literary prize winning authors such as Jeanette Winterson and Ali Smith develop and evolve the romance it is important to consider its continued relevance and possible future role in literature.
Certainly, snobbery around the genre persists in some circles, but given that we are now in a new ‘wave’ of feminism it is interesting to consider how this snobbery might indicate how we value women’s passions and artistic achievements. Equally, academic research into the genre is growing and fans' enthusiasm for romance is ceaseless.
In a time of political upheaval and great change, it is my belief that literature which speaks to emotion has never been more important. In short, romance and romance studies aren’t going anywhere – and nor should they!
Lindsay Evans (Contemporary Romance Author):
Real life romance is a pleasure and a gift most women enjoy. Whether in the simplest of ways like having a true and consistent partner or the over-the-top gestures of a lover with a fondness for rose petal-covered beds, sky written proposals, and edible undies, romance is the stuff that fantasies are made of.
The genre of romance celebrates these women and their desires, as well as every woman in between.
Through the stories romance novelists weave about gallant bus drivers, daring CEOs, and even the tempting friends who become unexpected lovers, we create fantasies between the pages for women of every type to escape into. That’s not always been the case, so it’s been beautiful to see the evolution of romance, the shifting ideas of what is considered romantic and even, through the books we see displayed on bookshelves and on prominent websites, who is thought worthy of romance. Obviously, we still have a long way to go but I’m very much looking forward to where this journey takes us.
Kimberly Lang (Contemporary Romance Author):
Fiction isn't reality, but it must reflect reality in order to create a connection to the reader. Our readers are diverse (and fantastic!) women, and they must be able to identify with the heroine enough to go along on her journey. And since the heroine cannot find her HEA with a hero who loves, accepts, and respects her unless she accepts, respects and loves herself, romance -- as a genre -- has to celebrate what makes each woman unique and wonderful.
Since romance authors are a pretty diverse group ourselves, just writing "what we know" creates a collection of stories backed by experiences, beliefs, and attitudes that span the spectrum of women's lives -- the good and the bad, the everyday and the sublime, the hoped-for and the unavoidable, and the petty and the monumental. We -- women -- can all relate, and we can all sympathize. This creates a community based on shared experiences and truths that is inclusive instead of exclusive. There is no "correct" way to be a woman; no one definition of "heroine." All are welcome in Romancelandia.
Quite simply, romance celebrates the diversity of women because romance celebrates women.
Vanessa North (LGBTQ Romance Author):
While the world around us titters over lurid covers from the seventies and hurls the word “purple” about our prose, romance novelists are in on the greatest-worst-kept-secret there is: Romance is not only the most powerful and successful genre in publishing—it’s the most feminist too.
Here is a genre that celebrates women’s sexuality instead of punishing them for it. In romance, women are allowed to make their own choices about life and love and sex, and they’re rewarded with happy marriages and lots of orgasms.
In romance, we’re allowed to read positive portrayals off all kinds of sex, from the awkward-sticky-fumbling to the sublime. We get to read about women who reclaim their bodies after trauma rather than women who are subjected to trauma as punishment for daring to take pleasure in their bodies.
Romance gives us female sexuality as a natural, exciting part of life—not as part of a morality play on what good girls don’t do. In other words? Romance is feminist as fuck.
Zara Stoneley (Contemporary Romance Author):
The romance genre, for me, is about celebrating real women. Advertising campaigns featuring women of varying size, age, and race just hit the tip of the iceberg – the written word is far more powerful. Romance is primarily (but not only) written by women for women – and so our heroines aren’t trembling wallflowers who need a man to complete them, they take centre stage. They can be kick-ass, directors, housewives, mothers, wives or singletons – they choose who they want to be.
At the end of the movie ‘Love Actually’, the airport scene gives a brief insight into some of the many flavours of romance – young love, mature love, breaking up, making up, and hope. (Would the heart-breaking same-sex love story also have made the final cut today?) Love is all around, and touches everybody.
Romance writers know that it’s about escapism, not labels. That they’re writing about empowering women, in all their diversity, to realise what they’re capable of. Romance inspires women to let their true selves shine through – and be proud of themselves, whoever they are. Romance lets us level the playing field and prove that any woman – whatever her shape, size, sexual orientation or qualifications - can get what she wants, if she wants it enough. The romance genre travels across the world, and through the ages, and creates conversation – and that’s got to be good, right?
Piper Huguley (Contemporary Romance Author):
The large number of the Women’s Marches that took place all over the world on January 21, 2017 gave me a glimmer of hope. There is much that we all have to learn about one another, but the vast expanse of the marches made me believe that the commonality of women’s experiences will be crucial in shaping the future. So, we must do our part to reach back and help young women achieve what they need to be better fulfilled in the world.
My work as a professor at a Black Women’s college is about preparing them for the 21st century world they are to part of. Part of that preparation is making them understand the rich foundation of history they come from. Women, as a group, must remember that there have been difficult times in history. We have to know that history intimately, not to relive it, but to be able to move on to something better. That’s what Women’s History Month and this International Women’s History day mean to me. It is a time to reflect on the past and to use it, all of it from all perspectives, to move forward to form a better world and future.
And that’s what the romance genre celebrates. International Women's Day celebrates the complete humanity of women, allowing for best circumstance for romances to grow and flourish.
Barb Han (Romance Suspense Author):
Today’s romance celebrates all different types of women by embracing everything perfect and imperfect about us. I’ve written women as small business owners, tech entrepreneurs and ranchers (to name a few).
Women are amazing and diverse, and there’s a book with a heroine in pretty much every conceivable role, culture and/or job. Part of what I love about writing romance that celebrates women is that I also get to explore our weaknesses and insecurities. I get a first-row seat to the emotions my heroines feel as they face whatever is holding them back from true happiness—happiness that comes from the inside out and is a result of putting in the hard work of facing our demons.
Melinda Curtis (Contemporary Romance Author):
Romance novels aren't limited to one era, one galaxy, one career or one overflowing bodice. Women and their situations in romance are as diverse as women in your community. Heroines come in all sizes, shapes and colors, and are portrayed as scientists, cops, store clerks and yes, even presidents.
But it isn't the career they've chosen, the obstacle in their path or the uniqueness in their flowing red tresses that captivates us. It's who they are inside that calls to us. Their fears. Their courage. Their capacity to forgive and move forward. It tells us what the world might be like if we take a chance and hang in there. It gives us hope that there's a purpose to hectic schedules, bad hair days, and glass ceilings.
Love can give us strength and change us. And sometimes it can change the world, too.
Bronwyn Scott (Historical Romance Author)
I love to read historical romance because it's a chance to escape from the modern world, and it's a chance to learn something. If you read the right ones, historical romance has a very strong intellectual side to it and it has a very feminist side to it as well.
Historical romance celebrates women as people who succeed at what really matters in life. In my opinion, successful careers and making money are important, but ultimately in one's final years, those things are window dressing to love and family - the core of person's soul.
Strong women in historicals don't bow to marriages they don't want, they don't bow to stereotypical images that don't fit them. They fight for what they want with whatever tools or skills they have at their disposal and not without consequence. The risks are high for them to forsake the known path and they find the courage to do it any way regardless of who they are; a high born lady, a downstairs maid, a gentry-born governess, a street rat. It doesn't matter who you are; when love is on the line, the risks are always great.
Lizbeth Selvig (Contemporary Romance Author)
I’m proud of, and in truth astonished at, the enormous spread between my youngest and my oldest readers. Two were just thirteen and given the books by their grandmothers! When one of those grandmas asked me if I thought that was okay, I hesitated and reminded her about the sex scene in the novel. She smiled and said, “That’s perfectly fine. It’s a lovely scene, and you have horses in the story. My granddaughter loves horses.”
At the other end of the age spectrum was my mother’s cousin. Despite being ninety-six, she insisted she loved the story AND the sex and put the book out on her coffee table “so all my old lady friends can see it.” I was honored! Who says you have to be young to enjoy a handsome, naked-torso man?
How could one book be enjoyed by so many different ages? Because every girl, young or old, needs romance. Given the appropriate story, a teenager can be introduced to the importance and empowerment of a kind and healthy relationship. An elderly woman can feel young again remembering or just enjoying what she already knows about the wonder of finding true romance in a world that sometimes feels lost to love and hope. Whether for teens, cool grandmas, or much older “girls,” there isn’t a more powerful genre in the world for creating strong, positive emotions in all ages of women than romance!
Heidi Rice (Contemporary Romance Author)
Romance is written mostly by women, for women. Perhaps that’s why I’ve read romance novels with Irish heroines, and Hispanic heroines, African-American heroines, Christian heroines and Muslim heroines, British heroines, French heroines, Australian heroines and Indian heroines.
I’ve read romance novels where the heroine is a doctor, or a lawyer, a Southern belle or a Victorian prostitute, a company director or a cleaner, a small-town vet or a New York party planner, or an undercover agent infiltrating a terrorist cell. I’ve read romance novels where the heroine is gay, and where she is straight. And I’d loved to read one where she is transgendered (any recs I’d like to hear them).
I’ve read romance novels where the heroine is dealing with puberty or facing menopause, where she is an abuse survivor or a cancer survivor, where she is plus-size or a former anorexic, where she is a divorcee or a new mum, a widow and a workaholic…
Is romance diverse and inclusive? Yes. Could it be more so? Hell, yes… This is a work in progress peeps. But on International Women’s Day, I’m proud to say being a romance reader has helped me look at love and relationships through a variety of different female experiences… And that’s why I love it.
Romy Sommer (Contemporary Romance Author)
I first discovered Romance novels as an adult, and it was like coming home. Here at last were characters I could identify with, dealing with issues and emotions I understood.
Regardless of where we come from, our level of education, or our life experiences, all women share common bonds: we all want to love and be loved, we want to nurture and protect our loved ones, we have common fears and aspirations. Romance novels start on this common ground, enabling readers to identify with characters as diverse as its writers and readers.
Through books, I’ve been a priestess, a Roman slave, an aristocrat, and an outsider. I have been black and white and many shades in between. I’ve visited different countries and cultures, felt the tropical sun on my bare skin and been snowed in during a blizzard. I have lived in the past, the present, and the future.
Romance novels have opened my eyes to how other people think and feel, to how even in our diversity we are so much alike; that we are all beautiful and unique.
I am excited for all the books I have yet to read, excited for the increasing diversity of the books being published, and (most of all) I’m excited to know that those books will continue to speak to me in a language I understand.
Lucy King (Contemporary Romance Author)
Why do I think the romance genre celebrates all different kinds of women? Well, for one thing, I think it’s partly because it’s (by and large) written by all different kinds of women, who each bring their own unique experiences, emotional response and approach to the genre. As a writer of contemporary romance, I love having so much choice when it comes to creating female characters. Rich, poor, divorced, single, outgoing, shy, sweet or sharp – whatever their personalities they’re all equally fascinating and fun to write about.
For another, I think romance readers are an incredibly diverse bunch of people with wide-ranging tastes, which means there’s an audience for a huge variety of female character types. Whether you want a story about a billionaire princess with chronic self-esteem issues or a once-bitten twice-shy kickass CEO who has a well-hidden marshmallow centre it’s probably out there somewhere.
Finally, I think that romance is, at its heart, all about emotion, and regardless of the outer trappings of the character – or the reader, for that matter – things like excitement, nervousness, fear, pain, disappointment, hope and happiness are universal. The genre reflects that and the fabulous women who want to read about it.
Jessica Gilmore (Contemporary Romance Author)
I read and write romance because it puts women squarely at the centre of their story. There’s an old fashioned view that romantic heroines are passive creatures, timid virgins waiting for a dominant rich man to stride into her life, insult her, seduce her and then sweep her off her feet – and to be fair that sub-genre does exist. But most heroines are the agent of her own change; sure, we want her to end up with the hero but we also know that if she chose another path she would be just fine.
Romance makes the seemingly ordinary woman visible, showing how extraordinary she really is. Heroines come from every ethnic background – although as an industry we need to be more diverse, they are single mothers, unable to have children or purposefully child free, disabled, educated disadvantaged, privileged, abuse survivors. Teachers and tycoons, dancers and doctors, secretaries and scientists. They are always beautiful to the men who love them but they aren’t Instagram idealised bikini models. And they fall in love with men who respect them, love them for who they are and with whom they have amazing (consensual, mutually satisfying) sex. That’s what makes romance amazing – and why so many people think it’s dangerous.
Michelle Douglas (Contemporary Romance Author)
To my mind, there’s one simple way that romance celebrates women—and that’s by putting women and their concerns at the centre of the narrative.
In the real world men’s pursuits have always had more kudos than women’s. One need only look at how sport is revered. Could you imagine the outcry if sport was denigrated in the same way that romance novels have been traditionally denigrated? Or if it were dismissed in the same way many female-centric hobbies like fashion and cooking are often dismissed?
In a romance, we are never made to feel ashamed or lesser for being drawn to the things that interest us. In fact, in the pages of a romance, those things are often celebrated. What’s more, the heroine is always the hero of the story—she directs the action. She goes after what she wants with determination. She might not always be right, and she’s often far from perfect, but she understands that she deserves happiness…she believes she’s worthy of happiness. That’s an empowering message right there. And it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to the genre again and again.
Fiona Harper (Contemporary Romance Author)
I love reading books about women – about women who are just like me, who have the same fears and neuroses and problems, and about women who are totally different, who, for example, live in another country or another time or do a fascinating job I would never be able to do in a million years. Romantic fiction celebrates our shared experiences as women, our hopes and dreams, even if we are seemingly so very different on the outside.
Many uneducated readers might believe that romantic fiction relies on stereotypes or clichés, but I really don’t believe this is the case. Each book, like each woman and each relationship, is different. I love stepping into that character’s shoes for a few hours and seeing the world through her eyes, experiencing her highs and lows.
Hopefully, even though I’m reading about a fictional person, when I close the book I will have understood more fully what it is to be a woman.
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