Are heroines becoming more passive?

“Someday my prince will come.”

Yup, that’s what the lady sang. And as Snow White, sweet, passive dear that she was, pined and waited for her prince, we all sighed and sympathized. And yet, as time wore on, as the face of romance changed, heroines became more active. Entities with their own powers. Not so of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty (never my favorite Disney heroines). They were docile and unassuming and, well, they slept a lot. By all that’s holy, they spent most of their time in a comatose state, waiting, waiting, waiting for a man to save them.

And he always did. Dashing and virile, those early princes knew exactly what to do in any situation, and always managed to carry their chosen gals to safety.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a rescue fantasy as much as the next woman. In fact, many of my heroines get rescued too, but I like to think they “rescued” their heroes in their own ways.

Then, for a while, we began to see stronger heroines. Girls with character, who could hold their own, and who had no trouble speaking up. Think of Belle (my personal fave). Belle didn’t sit around, waiting for the Beast to fix everything. She worked hard to rescue their love.

Romance novels seemed to follow this pattern, too. After decades of simpering, passive, Barbara Cartland-style heroines, we began to see women who were willing to take charge. Think of Diana Gabaldon’s Claire Randall. She never stayed put. Sure, Jamie had to bail her out a few times, but Claire held her own. And so have a score of other modern heroines.

However, I’m starting to glimpse a return to the submissive leading lady. Now, this is not a rant on BDSM. I’m not talking about that kind of submission, which involves a clear choice.

Yesterday, I spent some time browsing my local book store and wandered the romance aisle. I read a lot of blurbs while I was there. In 95% of the cases, the stories involved rich men bartering for the heroine’s attentions. In most cases, the women were less affluent, sometimes in wretched circumstances. In many instances, the heroines worked for the heroes, often in clerical positions. Now, this doesn’t mean a struggling woman is a weak woman, but it did give me pause. And perhaps I may be generalizing, but I see a lot of new Snow Whites out there. Women who can’t quite seem to carve out their own lives, and who need a strong man to show them the way.

Consider this as well. Dubious consent has become a new sub-genre in erotic literature. Dubious consent. I’m sorry. This does not sound romantic to me. However, perhaps that’s an argument for another day.

I get it. A powerful hero can be a real draw. We all love a take-charge sort of man. But have we sacrificed some of our heroines in the process?

I don’t know. Perhaps I should sleep on it.

 

 

22 thoughts on “Are heroines becoming more passive?

  1. I think you’re right, Rosanna. The pendulum does seem to be swinging the other way. On the other hand, I think it’s hard to see from the blurb if the heroine starts out more passive and it’s part of her emotional journey to learn to stand on her own two feet. I would certainly hope so.:-)

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    • You’re right, too, Karin. A blurb can only say so much, but I do find a lot of common threads in those blurbs. Let’s hope the pendulum swings back again. πŸ™‚

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  2. Great post, Rosanna! I couldn’t agree more and those doormat heroines make me want to run screaming from the room. Aside from that, they make lousy role models for our daughters. So there’s my two cents.

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  3. For me, so much of it is about the writing. I can’t stand a Belle character who’s only real character trait is her constant pronouncements of “i’m a strong woman, I don’t need anyone” or “i’m fine on my own and letting someone else in means giving up my hard earned independence.” Most often, in bad writing, I find this baggage is just a plot device to keep the characters apart and it rarely leads to a satisfying resolution, because nothing has actually happened. If my options are that or a well-written alpha billionaire and his shy but plucky secretary, i’d rather read the latter, and just pretend it’s a modern fairy tale. It’s not demeaning, just a fantasy.

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    • Thanks for your take on this subject, Shawny! We all love what we love. πŸ™‚ And for many readers, this fantasy is still an appealing one. I’ve read the books, too, and have enjoyed many that follow this trope. I guess I was just surprised at how many exist out there, and would like to encourage my fellow authors to try something new. :)It’s something I have to remind myself about constantly as well.

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      • Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-written independent heroine too, but I feel like the submissive one gets too easily dismissed as tropey, when the Belle character can be just as guilty of the same thing.

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  4. Now I am curious. You have my attention. I love a good billionaire story and never really put the two together…Hmmm..might have to take minute and take notice. hopefully, Disney and the media are leading the way. Show strong women who can have it all if they believe and love hard enough.
    Have to admit, I adore the plucky, strappy woman that can conquer the strongest of men. To the victor goes the spoils:))

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  5. I really think it depends on the author. I like to read the blurb but that can only take you so far. I have my go to authors and I know the stories will be good. Sometimes the women aren’t to my liking but I enjoy those stories. I grew up with the Disney and all the princess attitudes but I had a father who made me a strong woman. As I said I think it all depends on who writes the book and how they present the women.

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  6. I agree–I want heroines strong enough to go after what they want. However, I wonder how a back cover blurb could hint at the *choice* of sexual submission while still getting across that she’s strong. (Says she who has one of those stories and is now worrying about her blurb for the nth time. πŸ˜‰ )

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    • Blurbs are evil creatures, Jami. LOL I have trouble with them, myself. And no, a blurb can’t reveal every facet to the story. I guess I’m just noticing patterns a lot, in stories I read and blurbs I read. And hey, not every heroine is badass. My own ladies have their quirks. I just hate to see heroines who simper and fawn and accept whatever the hero deems appropriate. Thanks for commenting!

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      • Ha! Yes, they are. πŸ™‚

        Yeah, my heroine in this story is stronger than the hero so it’s fun for her to play the submissive, especially when she knows there’s not a damn thing he can do to her without her permission. (She’s a dragon-shifter. πŸ™‚ )

        As you said, it’s all about choices, and it’s depressing to read stories sometimes when the heroine has NO power to make any choices. I want my heroines strong enough to have a choice. πŸ™‚

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      • Well said! Choice is key, which is why this whole dubious consent thing worries me. But, like I said, that’s an argument for another day! πŸ™‚

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  7. If the pendulum is swinging to meek, passive heroines, I am screwed. I just can’t write those. My women go toe-to-toe whether it is mentally or physically with the alpha males in their lives. While my ladies will accept a hand now and then, they can usually rescue themselves or rescue their men. Women, in my world, are smart and savvy and strong. Even when submissive in the bedroom, they have some control since they “choose” to give up control to their more dominant men. A woman who chooses to give up control in the sexual arena is a very strong and self-confident woman and those are the type of more erotic romances I like to read — and write . BTW I’ve been told I write erotic romance even though I wouldn’t classify myself as such. (I have it on good authority from my crit buddy whom I met for the first time today, in person, Cherise Sinclair.) πŸ™‚

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  8. It’s a real skill. I can tolerate an alpha male before I can forgive an over-bearing woman. Maybe it’s because we feel the need to over compensate? I’m not happy with my admission; I’m ready to be attacked. But in the same vein, an over-aggressive alpha male will ensure I put down a book. My own MC is strong and will not tolerate being dominated. Why is that? I don’t know. It wasn’t a conscious decision – I just wrote the book the way I was comfortable with.

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    • Thanks Lorelle. And who among us hasn’t written a character with weaknesses and flaws? God knows, my heroines aren’t always strong. Sometimes it takes tragedy or friction with the hero to bring out their strengths. And I love an Alpha man. We all do in this business (don’t we?). I just worry sometimes that certain women have been made to flounder, when they could have shone. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. This has become a real problem for me in multi-racial contemporary romance for me too. I mean, can’t we have a strong, mutually supportive couple?

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    • That’s interesting to hear, Paperback Diva. I don’t think any subgenre of romance is immune. I think most of us want to infuse our characters with flaws to make them interesting, but this somehow translates into weak characters sometimes. I suppose if our MC’s had it all together, we wouldn’t have a story, but it would be refreshing to see strong people deal with issues in romance too. Thanks for sharing.

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