A few weeks ago, I was directed to a link showing an infograph of some of the most common grammatical errors in 50 Shades of Grey and comparing them to other romance lines in other famous novels. Included on that list was works such as The Notebook, Pride and Prejudice, and about seven other works I don’t think I had heard of before reading this infograph. While the information in itself was entertaining, all it did in my mind was solidify the connection between 50 Shades of Grey and Pride and Prejudice as examples of the worst that the romance genre has to offer.
Do not let the five copies of Pride and Prejudice sitting on my bookshelf fool you. I despise the novel and pretty much everything about it. Two of those editions were from college, and I have a hard time getting rid of books, even when it is books I hated. I can’t in good conscience sell them to the book store when they contain all my disparaging notes, nor am I happy with the notion of destroying them. Another edition is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Don’t let the internet fool you. It’s not that good. The other two are an erotic version that turns the original into one giant orgy and a gay fan-fiction respectively. They’re also the only two out of the five that I enjoy. Before you start to think I’m just going to deride these two particular books for the next five hundred words, let me be clear. It’s not really the books that give rise to these loathsome feelings. It’s the genre they represent. A genre that is overwhelmingly popular and does real women little credit.
The Power Play
The grounds for my distaste in the romance genre and romance plots are rooted in the fact that almost every romance revolves around a powerplay. In most cases, the heroine is somehow indebted to the hero for at least a portion of the work. For our purposes, we’re going to use the term “heroine” to apply to the protagonist and the term “hero” to apply to the romantic lead. These problems can also appear in gay and lesbian romances. As much as I love Sedric and Carson from The Rain Wild Chronicles, I will never forget or forgive that they initially hooked up because Carson prevented Sedric from suicide. Granted, after that it was one of the most balanced gay relationships to ever grace the pages of fantasy fiction, but it doesn’t change the fact that it started out awkwardly. I mean, at one point Sedric got to go out and do badass things while Carson got to stay at home and brood. Honestly, check out The Rain Wild Chronicles right now. So even though it got better, the way it started out left a bad taste in my mouth.
In most of the older romances, the hero usually has far more wealth than the heroine does. In some cases, this leads to an event in which the hero more or less attempts or succeeds to buy the heroine’s love. For instance, in Jane Eyre, she is originally hired to be Mr. Rochester’s governess, which puts him in a position of power over her from the time that they met. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy buys a marriage for Lydia so that Elizabeth and her family don’t have to suffer the shame. In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian replaces Ana’s car with a much more expensive model, complete with GPS tracking so that he knows where she is at any given time.
Still, at some point in the history of the romance genre, barring 50 Shades of Grey, women said enough. They were tired of having the heroine financially being dependent on the hero. They wanted a self-sufficient heroine who didn’t need the hero to buy next meal. The genre took a step forward and started creating heroines with careers. Heroines who didn’t actually need the hero in their life in order to find financial completion. Except, that can’t be right. The heroine needs the hero or else the whole romance falls apart. This led to a development even worse than the financial power play.
The Rape Intervention
You’ve read this romance arc. We’ve all read this romance arc. I have repeatedly complained about this romance arc and yet it continues to happen. The plot somehow involves the heroine nearly being raped by some bad person, only to have the hero come in and save the day before any harm can befall the heroine. This can happen at any point in the development of the relationship. I’ve seen it happen when they first meet, and I’ve seen it happen during the climax of the book. It doesn’t matter when it happens, it’s still crap. There’s a number of problems with this. The first is that it reduces rape to to a plot device. The second is that it still makes the heroine indebted to the hero, only this time in a sexual manner. If I had a nickel for every time the heroine threw themselves at the hero for saving them from rape, I’d be an incredibly rich woman.
The worst instance I’ve seen of this rape intervention problem occurred in a novel my friend let me borrow. The heroine was unconscious. One of the hero’s friends wanted to rape her. He refused to allow it to happen, not because rape is wrong, but because they didn’t have time for it. The man the heroine is supposed to fall in love with doesn’t think rape is wrong if there’s time for it. I can’t eagerly anticipate her falling in love with him. I’m eagerly anticipating him to fall off the edge of the nearest cliff. Needless to say, I didn’t finish reading the book, and I am now questioning my friend’s taste in literature.
What Can Save Romance
Not all hope is lost for the romance genre or romance plots in general. What we need more of is couples that are balanced. Couples that don’t have a weird power play going on. Couples that are in happy, stable relationships between equals. And less rape. Far less rape.
What we really need more of is relationships like Monica and Chandler from Friends. Yes, there were ups and downs, but for the most part, the show treated them like equals. They were both from the wealthier branch of the gang. They both had abusive childhoods. When it came time for the show to throw the infertility plot at them, they were both revealed to have low fertility. The show could have just as easily pinned the blame on one of them and throw in a power play, but they decided not to.
Not that Friends was perfect on the relationship front. They had plenty of mishaps along the way as well, which is unsurprising given the length of the show and the comedy aspect.
If anyone has examples of romances or romance arcs that focus on a couple of equals, please send them my way. I would love to see them.