August Back-To-School: Romance 101
Ideal Heroine Week
I have long pondered the problem of female empowerment. How do we untangle it from our femininity? How do we untangle our femininity from our sexuality? How can we excel at being powerful women when we’re still trying to accept the women we are? Women have been struggling with this question for quite some time. Samuel Richardson’s Pamela is quite literally a story of a woman struggling for power over her body and self by keeping her words ON her body. Mr. B continuously tries to gain access to Pamela’s words by asking, telling, and, finally, grasping for them down her bosom. Pamela’s only power was kept in her panties.
So what do I think when I hear songs like The Pussycat Doll’s “Don’t Cha” and Kellis’ “Milkshake?” Well, the first thing I think is that I always hear girls of all ages singing this song as though the words and rump shaking that goes along with it were empowering. Don’t get me wrong; I shake my own bootay when the latest pop song comes on the radio (I’m especially guilty of dancing badly to “Sexy and I Know It”), but I don’t think of myself as a powerful and respected woman when I do so (if anything I’m waiting to be filmed for America’s Funniest Home Videos).
So why do we insist that our milkshake bring all the boys to the yard? And why do we want them cluttering our yard up anyway? The Ideal Woman in romance fiction is often the woman who seems powerful despite her sexualized power. She is the woman who represents various sexualized elements we’re familiar with, but who packs a little something more in the punch.
Like Pamela, heroines (and readers) must often find their power in spite of the circumstances they find themselves in and despite the stories they find themselves written into. Pamela uses her body to suit her needs–to keep her power out of her male captor/hero’s hands and to protect her own sensibilities. Though not quite the milkshake Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders ends up using, she is still imbuing her body with her power.
The heroines of romance novels are entrenched in this idea. How many shape-changing, vampire-hunting, spell-casting, and independent-business-owning women do we find in our favorite novels? How many are single women who tote guns in the wild frontier? How many are responsible for marrying to keep the honor of the family? The heroines we find in our novels are often sexualized as instruments of a greater desire for power. When she puts on her leather pants and bustier before she goes a-vampire-huntin’, or when she lets her long hair swing down after a long day of successfully selling knickknacks/flowers/books/coffee/clothing/cupcakes…she is keeping her words on her body. We are keeping her words on her body.
The powerful women we read about in romance novels give us a sense of ourselves outside the daily grind. The nature of a love story, the wonderfully enjoyable nature, is that there is an attraction between two people. Does the attraction have to originate in the fit of her pants, or her irresistable sensuality via her modern sensibilities concerning sex? The best novels, the most memorable love stories, seem to be the ones where the heroine doesn’t so much shake her rump as shake up what it means to be in love and to be loved.
What do you think? Is the power in the pants?
Categories: Love Letters: Editorials