Some of my favorite romances feature classic tropes. Best friends turned lovers, office romances, arranged marriages, opposites attract, the bodyguard hero, heroines on the run. I love them all.
But over time, as a reader with my growing laid back feminism, I've been attracted to novels that switch gender roles up a bit.
I love when a heroine is a sexually active alpha who runs her own business, without slut-shame or judgement from other characters and readers alike.
I love a heroine who has a quiet mind and makes decisions in a crisis. Eve Dallas in J.D. Robb’s In Death series did it. But so did Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
I love when heroines don’t always have to be saved by someone else, but save themselves, and maybe they save the hero too.
When romance novels challenge gender stereotypes, they challenge us.
Starting as young as seventh grade, I read smart, well-written romance novels that told me women could be self-sufficient, brave, rational creatures who try their hardest, learn from their mistakes, and feel deeply.
I was even reading the heavier stuff, like the Outlander series, before I hit ninth grade. So perhaps I've always liked certain types of heroines. Just glance at my Netflix account. It recommends "moves with strong female leads, who save the world and get the guy, based on a book."
But I would love to see these ideas pushed even further in romances. I remember what Blake Snyder said in his book Save the Cat!
"Give me the same thing...only different!"
Writers struggle with this all the time. How to avoid cliches and make their story fresh while still fulfilling genre and reader expectations.
That can mean re-thinking stereotypes of heroes and heroines, and playing a game of "what if," (a useful skill for story consultations, let me tell you).
Do you think heroines have the same chances as heroes in these roles?
- What if a sexually active female CEO was an alpha heroine with a beta hero assistant?
- What if an athletic heroine had a fanboy hero in the crowd?
- What if the hero yelled for help while the heroine loaded a shotgun?
- What if a heroine veteran deals with PTSD with the help of a stay-at-home hero?
- What if a lawless heroine saved a town and fell in love with the mayor’s shy and modest son?
- What if a hero was under a sleeping spell, only to be broken by a heroine’s true love kiss? (After she slays the monster.)
I want to read more books like these (if you know some, help a girl out, m'kay?).
Because the problem isn’t that heroines aren’t capable of ALL of these roles. It’s that we’re accustomed to heroines fitting certain criteria of femininity, that having characteristics of heroes appears too alpha or not feminine. But nothing is off limits for romance heroines.
All you have to do is write her.