A few weeks ago when I interviewed Blushing Books author Sullivan Clarke, one particular response she gave to my questions stuck with me. It was about the romance novels she used to read that inspired her to become a writer. Sullivan had been a big fan of what my friends used to call “bodice-ripping” romance novels, where heroes were strong and authoritative and the women were feisty hellions whose sole purpose seemed to be finding a man who could love, protect and tame them. That’s something she and I have in common, because I loved those books, too.
Those stories featured lots of sex and more than a few spanking scenes, but over the years many of the publishers bowed to political correctness and tempered the male-dominant element of the stories. By the late 1980’s, publishers’ tip sheets contained the words “no spankings.” Scenes where the spiky or recalcitrant heroine was thrown over the hero’s lap for a well-deserved spanking became few and far between.
So what changed? Was it the readers’ tolerance? These themes were exceedingly popular, and judging by the sales of erotic e-books that feature such bygone themes, they still are. So was it the heads of publishing companies who feared a feminist backlash for the sin of selling what they some were criticizing as demeaning to women? If it was, then they may not understand the books they were selling – or their readers.
If my memory serves me correctly, the heroines in those books were never completely tamed, let alone broken. They were simply strong women who wanted a man to prove he was strong enough to best her if she needed -or wanted – it. Many of the female characters had a duality about them that readers loved; they were smart, aggressive and cunning. Some were even warriors. I suspect I’m speaking for women besides myself when I say that the readers identified with both sides of these female characters as strong, capable women who longed to yield – to a certain extent – to just the right guy. And if sales of these books were any indication, that description fit a lot of women.
I suppose we could argue all day whether these urges are a function of nature or nurture, or whether the popularity of eBooks with these dynamics are again filling a demand that never went away and still exists among female readers who are more capable and independent than ever.
I’d love to know what you think. Do you believe that strong women can still enjoy books with dominant male characters and feisty, strong female heroines? Or do books featuring egalitarian characters better serve society?