Is there really a conflict between feminism and romance?
Chaired by: Donna Maree Hanson
Donna introduced the topic with a summary of the three waves of feminist theory. The first wave (1830s-1900) includes the work of the suffragettes. The second wave (1960-1980) broadened the debate to look at equal pay for equal work, and reproductive rights. This wave is often criticized for being only about white women. The third wave (1990s to present) covers a broad range of issues for women, and also includes the pushback against the term feminist, thus creating post-feminism.
What does feminism mean to you?
AB – It’s not static as I learn about agency and safety for women, and about reaching potential
AG – I’m a practical feminist. I’ve spent adult life working with severely disadvantaged girls in her role as a community worker, and that colours my view of the world. I see it like that moment in the book Gulliver’s Travels – women are tied down by tiny threads. Each thread seems unimportant on it’s own, but as a group, they hold you back.
EH – My mum had career and family, and supported her daughters. Dad did too. Not all about middle class white women. There are millions of women who still don’t have education or birth control.
BP – It’s important to recognise one’s own privilege, to be an educated straight white women is a huge advantage, but subtle ways and systemic issues still disadvantage women. Some more than others.
Can feminism co-exist with romance?
BP – Absolutely. Feminism is deeply embedded/immersed in romance. 1970s romance had alph-holes and heroines had so much disadvantage, but they still said ‘No, I deserve better’. Love can’t exist without respect. Many 70s romances feature Women’s Movement.
EH – We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe it. We know women should be equal. Romance is read, written and published by women. It’s a simple idea – that people respect each other as humans. Society doesn’t act like that, but we write it. It’s aspirational.
AG – Feminism and romance must coexist. Our characters work through problems. We offer models to help real people work through issues. In the The Autumn Bride (A Chance Sisters Romance), I was convinced that everyone would hate it as the hero doesn’t arrive in the book until the end. But it sold super well, as a story about four women who band together in friendship, and create their own family with an old woman who desperately needs their help. The book counters the ‘can’t be happy without a man’ criticism of romance.
AB – Pop culture’s perception of body image comes from men, but romance show the ugly duckling can survive and thrive via a female gaze. “What is a man doing to impress me?” says romance; while society says “How should she impress a man?”
How about difficult issues like rape and domestic violence?
AB – It can be tricky to balance fantasy and consent. It depends how things are handled so any situation is not derogatory; and this often comes down to ensuring the heroine is empowered and in the driver’s seat.
AG – I don’t try to do feminism on purpose in my stories, as I don’t want to lecture people. But the reality is that in history, women had it tough. They were often kidnapped for their money, married and abandoned; because their property automatically transferred to the husband. I don’t need to look for issues, they are already there.
EH – Romance is a safe place to address issues because you know it will work out. She will find herself, and a supportive relationship. If there is a danger that she’ll be killed by her husband; that book becomes a misery memoir, not romance. Romance gives a guarantee that she will be safe in the end.
BP – My books are fast paced so not much time for bigger issues, but have read many books that deal with stuff well. I recall reading about a letter sent to JD Robb/Nora Roberts re: Naked in Death (In Death, Book 1) that said “Thank you for writing about Eve Dallas, as I can imagine a new outcome for me.”
How do you balance issues and a Happily-Ever-After?
AB – Most of the book is written from female point of view, so it comes out organically. Always want to be sensitive, want her to be empowered, and safe at the end.
AG – I write what I want to write. I want people to have a fun read. But you can’t have light without shadow. So conflict and danger comes naturally. I try not to minimise difficulties, because people in real life struggle for years to overcome abuses. It can make it hard to balance awfulness of real life with a Happily-Ever-After.
BP – I work with three principles:
1. Men never lose control
2. Always use a condom
3. Heroines rescue themselves
EH – Feminism and romance are going in the same direction. Readers want to see heroines who get on with their lives and heroes who respect them.
Questions from the floor
What is capture romance?
AB – Romance in a single location where one of the two main characters is initially there against their will. There is automatic conflict and the dynamic is very intense. Need to ensure there are no victims at the end.
Question to EH about her book regarding jekyl/hyde – is it an exploration of virgin/whore dynamic, but I missed some of the answer. EH – puts heroines in a place where the world is against them; and dual personality gives two methods of dealing with those odds.
Question to AG about power, especially wealth in history.
AG – Power is not simple. There is a see-saw of strengths that causes conflict on different levels.