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February 8, 2011

Are Romance Heroes Good Role Models?

Couple holding hands

In preparation for Valentine’s Day, a recent USA Today article (5/14 ETA: article no longer in USA Today archives) gave the relationship advice that a man should: “look into her eyes, focus on what she says and really talk to her.”  Wow, earth-shattering ideas.

Or not.  The suggestion to treat a woman like a person and not just a collection of body parts is nothing new.  Neither is putting down the remote and listening to her instead of clicking through TV channels.  And communication is always on the top of the list with marriage counselors for how to solve problems.

So why did the supposed female-oriented website Jezebel rail on this article?  Because USA Today took their inspiration from (horror of horrors!) romance novels:

If you want to show the woman you love how much you care, take a page from a romance novel.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  The nerve of those USA Today people.  Why, in the words of the Jezebel article:

Aren’t dudes in romance novels kind of… rapey?

I might be offended if I weren’t laughing so hard.  “Rapey”?  Sure romance novel “heroes” from the 70s and 80s used more force than now, with the bodice-ripper cliché .  But just as TV shows have moved past Archie Bunker and Dukes of Hazzard, romance novels have evolved too.

The Jezebel columnist admits she hasn’t read a romance novel.  Instead, she visited a humorous review blog to confirm her opinion that romance heroes don’t have any good qualities.  Uh-huh.  In the brilliant words of Jezebel commenter Deeba:

Judging romance novels by reading reviews of bizarre ones on a comedy site is like watching MST3K and concluding that all movies are low-budget schlock with poor acting and worse special effects.

Now, are all romance novel heroes great role models?  Absolutely not.  I’m sure multiple essays have been written about the controlling, stalker activities of Edward Cullen of Twilight fame.  And especially at the beginning of the story, a hero might display some less-than-acceptable behavior.

Most TV series don’t show loving marriages or good parenting skills either.  Duh, perfection is boring.  Writers need problems, issues, and weaknesses to create conflict.

However, unlike TV shows, which drag issues out for the next season, romance novels end—happily.  During the course of the story, the romance hero learns how to value and treat his woman right.  And that behavior is realistic.  Real men can be just as awesome as the studliest romance hero when it comes to making their women feel special.

As I’ve said before, this is why romance novels are not porn.  There’s no insulting or denigrating of men.  Sure, the heroes are usually good-looking, but that’s not why the heroine stays with him at the end.  The heroine ends up with the hero because he makes her feel treasured.  That’s not an impossible standard or fantasy.

So, yes, I think romance heroes can be good role models.  Or rather, I think good men can inspire great romance heroes.  My heroes protect, spoil, and love their women, all characteristics I know from experience exist in real men.  In return, I have to make sure my heroines deserve such great guys by showing her treating him with respect, spoiling him, and loving him as well.

Sounds like both the hero and heroine can be good role models actually.  Studies show romance readers get more action in bed.  Maybe non-romance-readers should try it before they knock it. *smile*

Do you think romance heroes and heroines can be good role models?  What characters do you think are the best role models?  Why?  Which ones are the worst?

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Lili Tufel
Lili Tufel

They used the word “rapey.” Alrighty then. Its interesting to see how the word can be used so loosely. What happened to the times when the term rape was truly frightnening?

Murphy

Rapey? LOL! What’s the opposite of that, wimpy?

Hmm.. as to whether a romance hero makes a good role model? I’d have to say, typically, yes. I mean, we are talking fiction here and as you pointed out, there needs to be issues and weaknesses that a writer can embellish for the story’s sake. That might be a good thing because a reader is forced to pay attention to it and eventually sympathize/and or process it – which would carry over into certain life situations.

I would have to point out however, that many of today’s romance heroes characteristics are conjured from the minds and imaginations of the women who created them. So, when I examined the: ‘romance dudes are kind of rapey’ statement, I realized it actually says less about men than it does about women, right? After all, in most -not all – cases, it’s the woman author directing her hero’s actions. Interesting.

Just my thoughts…

Hi Jami! Great post as usual! 🙂

Murphy

Sondrae Bennett

It always amazes me that people who have never read a romance novel can judge them so harshly. I was once told by one of my friends that what I write wasn’t anything special because it was romance. She later admitted she’d never read a romance. Although I’ll admit, I’ve never heard the term “rapey” heroes before. That made me laugh.

I absolutely think men can learn from romance heroes! Women want to be cherished! That’s why they read the stories and fall in love with the characters.

Piper Bayard

Great post! I think there are all kinds of role models, good and bad, in romance novels, just as there are all kinds of men. The most ridiculous example of trash in a novel I’ve ever seen was nonsense about a young woman with a bachelor’s in psychology being sent into the jungles of Africa by the CIA to study a French/African war lord. Of course, they fall madly in love, and he becomes her well-trained house pet. I didn’t even tell my writing partner, Holmes, about it for fear of giving him apoplexy.

You mentioned the most well-known bad role model, Edward Cullen. When I let my daughter read Twilight, I pointed out to her that if she ever woke up to find a man had crawled through her window to watch her sleep, I fully expect her to shoot his ass because he’s a crazy stalker.

However, you also have the wonderful men like Farmboy in Princess Bride, who treat women like their true and treasured soul mates. So in that respect, I would have to say there are all kinds, and a novel always reflects the emotional state of the author. Some authors just need serious therapy.

May the word “rapey” never be found in a lexicon.

Murphy

Hi Jami:

I changed my post idea today because you inspired me! Thanks!

Piper, you say: Some authors just need serious therapy.

I ask (well, after I finish LMAO 🙂 ) what does that say for the agents/editors/publishers that supported it?

Murphy

Kelli
Kelli

You have to be kidding. I love it when people run off at the mouth before knowing what the h*ll they are talking about. It’s obvious this person hasn’t picked up a romance novel in very long time. (since the stone age. Neanderthal)

I’ve made my hero a little more sensitive to the heroine. I get flack for this but why does the hero have to be overly aggressive? (bodice rippers, lol)

Love your comparison to Archie Bunker and Dukes of Hazard 🙂

Wow, this makes my blood boil. Stupid people irritate me. Thanks for allowing me to vent 😉

D. F. Krieger

Hey Jami,
Thanks for writing this post. I love your comparisons and defense of romance writing. If romance readers get more action in bed, then what does that say for romance writers? Bwahahaha! As for good role models, I often find that its the ‘best friend’ who I see as one. They tend to be a little more sage and have greater insight in the grand scheme of the story. Just once, though, I’d like to see a best friend whack a stubborn hero/ine on the butt with a frying pan!

Rita

Yesterday, after I read the post, two thoughts immediately came to mind. Either the blogger is incredibly stupid or so desperate for readers/comments they would say anything. Or.., is it both? Whatever. My revenge is to never read the blog again.
Ant thanks to USA Today for the lovely articles.

Rachel Graves

Kudos to you Jami, for being so much more grown up than anyone who speaks about romance novels when they haven’t read one. It’s maddening to me that our genre is judged by people who haven’t even read the back of a cover.

And the phrase ‘rapey’ offends me, just like the idea of using rape as a casual metaphor for ruining something. That word means something serious, something hateful, could we please not throw it around? Say the heroes were aggressive, demanding, controlling, or even violent, but not ‘rapey.’ Rape isn’t cute and it shouldn’t be made into a tongue in cheek adjective. More importantly, I can’t imagine any of the romance lines ever published a hero who raped anyone.

Roni Loren

This always gets my feathers all ruffled. Why are all the people who denigrate romance novels always doing it without actually reading them? Ugh. Romance writers are (mostly) women writing for other women. We wouldn’t write rape-y dudes. The only reason those bodice-rippers existed in the 70s is because women were still uncomfortable about *liking* those sexy scenes. Having a female character who owned her sexuality and went after sex would’ve seemed pretty scandalous back then. So it really was just a reflection of women not feeling comfortable enough to own their sexuality, so it felt safer to read about some overbearing hero who would force that vixen side out of the heroine. Not saying it was right, but I think it was a reflection of the times. We’ve moved WAY past that now. You’d have trouble selling a romance without a really strong, kickass heroine (let’s not talk about Twilight, lol.) And you certainly wouldn’t be able to sell a book that had a rapist as a male lead. I write romance with BDSM themes, so I’m always HYPER aware of making sure a dominant hero has that tender core, that he is always most concerned about the heroine, and that in turn, my heroine is super strong and is into that sexual dynamic for her own personal reasons. And I agree with the commenter above who mentioned the feminization of guys. I don’t want to read about a hero who is in therapy and always wants to talk…  — Read More »

Tiffany Reisz

Totally agree with Roni. The rapist-hero of the 70’s was a trick by the writer to let the female lead have pre-marital sex without being seen as a whore. Now that we’re all a little more comfortable with pre-marital sex, we don’t need that escape hatch anymore.

Like Roni, I write BDSM erotica. I love writing damaged, complicated, dangerous men who do wicked things and often get away with them. But, again, at their core is a sense of humanity, courage, and love for the heroine (or other hero – I love gay erotica) that is ultimately redemptive.

I will agree with getting relationship advice from a romance novel is a little silly. A lot of romance novels involve outlandish plots that just don’t pertain to everyday living. I’ve yet to read a romance novel where the hero and heroine sit down and balance the checkbook together. But then again, it’s fiction. Who WANTS to read about checkbook balancing? Rather dull stuff.

Anywho, I will say one controversial thing. A lot of women do have rape fantasies. And sometimes they like to read fiction that shows a super aggressive, even dangerous man ravishing a woman. And that’s 100% fine. Because, again, it’s fiction and the writer answers to no one but herself and if that’s what she wants to write, then she can write it.

Rapey…now that’s just silly.

Tiffany!

Matt Shields

I’m reminded of a chapter from Michael Crichton’s “Journeys” – a woman Michael is dating tells him that each sex has imposed its reality on the other gender. She tells Michael to imagine that all the male stereotypes are actually female. And vice versa.
I don’t completely agree with that sentiment, but I think in the context of a society where women are definitely more sexually repressed than men, I think its interesting that women sometimes escape into novels where the heroines are occasionally “taken.” And I am surprised when… shall we say… my wife is less interested in the romance and more interested in the act? 😉 Just thought a guy’s POV might be interesting to y’all.

Todd Moody

I don’t read straight romance novels, but I do read paranormal romance stuff, quite a bit of it actually. Mercy Thompson (Patty Briggs), Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong and my wife actually got me to read Sherrilyn Kenyon, (for the story come on!) although it is pretty explicit, the characters are very strong, but the relationships all have a common thread and that is making their partner feel appreciated, respected and needed. Cherished is a good word for this. It can make you wonder if you do enough to keep the home fires burning honestly. They can be hard role models to live up to.

In and of themselves I suppose they make decent role models from that aspect. I seriously doubt a guy reading a romance novel needs to learn anything from the guys in there though. It’s the cretins that won’t read them that really need to. It’s a bit of a Catch-22.

From the writer’s perspective though, I think I‘ve learned a few things. I’m trying really hard to give my female lead a realistic perspective on what she is attracted to and how she reacts to the male lead. You gals are still an enigma to us guys, even after 18 years of marriage! =)

Rachel Firasek

Great post as usual. I love the line about the hero winning because he treasures the heroine. So true! Thanks for sharing this.

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[…] Are Romance Heroes Good Role Models? by Paranormal Author Jami Gold […]

Regina Linton

I think that they make great role models. I know that fiction is fiction and that some of these people do not truly exist, but wouldn’t it be great if they did? 😀

Janelle Madigan

Wow. I LOVE people who have opinions about things they don’t know anything about. Like those people who will argue with you about whether a movie was any good, but then admit that they haven’t actually seen it. Uhh…

Personally, I think romance novels need strong, powerful heroines. These days, the heroine often rescues the hero just as often as he rescues her. I think the point of 21st-century romance is that people, male and female, rescue each other! Not every romance novel does this, and I’m saddened when I see a book in which the man overpowers the woman and she eventually gives in. It’s the books where they each have the freedom to choose and they choose one another that have true power for me.

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[…] who’s perfect for us?  Not perfect.  But perfect for us.  I’ve written before about how much I think real men have in common with romance heroes.  As long as both parties are working toward a good relationship, real-life romances do […]

Serena
Serena

Mmm interesting article.

I like your point that real life men can be wonderful as well; as I’ve said in my previous comment, it’s good not to get too blinded by the cynical views, because the cynics are just as biased as the romantics!

“I think good men can inspire great romance heroes. ”
🙂 I like this new perspective.

” My heroes protect, spoil, and love their women….. In return, I have to make sure my heroines deserve such great guys by showing her treating him with respect, spoiling him, and loving him as well.”

Those are definitely the hallmarks of a successful relationship. I’m glad you remarked that the girls have to love and spoil the guys as well, since it’s not cool to twist feminism into male bashing.

” Studies show romance readers get more action in bed. ”

Woah seriously? Lol I never knew that.

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[…] Absolutely not. I personally know too many people who have exactly that in their real life to think it’s not possible—to think it fluffy, stupid, immature fantasy. […]

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