Feminism and Romance Novels

CPoaBK0UYAQHKF8I got this photo the other day, on the autumn equinox. Maybe it’s the Celtic ancestry, but I love to commemorate the solstices and equinoxes. Part of marking the journey of the year.

Last spring, at the RT Convention, I gave a workshop on Walking the Line of Consent. (I also teach it online or can visit to give it – description here.) This is a topic I’ve been interested in for a long time, one that I’ve written and talked about a fair amount. And one I’ve gotten grief for. In fact, when I proposed this workshop, a couple of author friends warned me against doing it. They said I might get myself in trouble.

And the RT book reviews website asked me to write a short article about my thoughts on the topic, which generated good conversations. Another author, however, started a bit of a witch hunt among her followers against me, making me out to be a terrible person for championing anything less that full consent.

Which I do, in real life. I maintain that fiction is something else, a place where all fantasies are acceptable.

At any rate, the workshop went off amazingly well. A gratifying number of people attended and they all stayed for the whole thing! After the fact, one of the gals who attended, , contacted me and said she was writing an article on the topic for Aeon Magazine, and asked if she could quote me since I said such smart things about it.

How could I say no to that?

So today the article came out and it’s so good. She articulates a lot of the same ideas I’ve had about romance novels for most of my life. In an era where the media loves to sling about terms like “bodice ripper” and “mommy porn,” just to up the click rate, it’s terrific to read something both smart and romance-positive.

I’m flattered to be included!

Taking Time to Think about the RWR Cover

Sunset in Eldorado at Santa Fe by Jeffe KennedyAs the weather warms up in Santa Fe, the sunsets get more spectacular – double the blessings!

So, I seldom wax terribly feminist in writing. I’m sure more than a little of this is due to my Texas grandmother’s voice in my head reminding me to be pleasant, soft-spoken and not to ruffle feathers. Which I totally get is part of the problem. Still I tend to avoid conflict and sometimes I don’t voice my opinions for that reason. Of course, I have other, very good reasons for not voicing my position on some subjects, at least not publicly.

But this one has been bugging me for quite a while.

As you all may or may not know, I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and remain an enthusiastic supporter of the organization. RWA is the premier professional organization for romance writers, which means it’s composed primarily of women. There are no absolute numbers for this, as some men write under female pseudonyms, other writers consider themselves gender-flexible and, of course, there’s no gender-reporting requirement. Still, if looking around the room at the National Convention is any indicator, we’re probably talking over 95% female.

I frankly love that about RWA. There are very few arenas in my life where the community is so strongly female and – in the words of Cinderella from Into the Woods – it makes for a nice change. I think more people than I feel this way. Sure the male members joke about being outnumbered, but I figure, hey, welcome to the non-male experience. I embrace the overwhelming femaleness of RWA and feel that should be celebrated. Certainly that fact should be front and center in RWA’s branding.

So why isn’t it?

This is what has me riled up. (Hi Grandmother!) The cover of the April 2015 Romance Writers Report, our official magazine, looks like this:

RWR April 2015The lead article is “Master of Your Career,” which… okay, fine. “Master” is grammatically correct and we’re all supposed to be good with the word being gender neutral. It might look silly to have “Mistress of Your Career,” because that word doesn’t denote mastery of anything at all. Which is a sad truth, right there. I probably wouldn’t even have given it (much of) a second thought, except for that image.

Men’s shoes.

I mean, decidedly masculine shoes. Not even gender-neutral shoes, like sneakers or some such, that could be seen either way. Now, I know that probably Corn Creative, who does the magazine design, likely came up with this and didn’t give it a second thought. I think that graphic designer is female, too. It looks like she does work for many publications, including the Society for Neuroscience, which I can vouch from personal experience skews the gender proportion in almost the opposite direction. Maybe she didn’t think about it and just picked a strong image.

What I’m saying is, maybe we should think about it.

I’m saying this also coming off a call with Agent Connor where he (strongly) suggested that I reconsider some of the naming in this new fantasy series I’m working on, as it can be viewed as cultural appropriation. And yes, it irritated me that he said that and I might have replied that we all belong to the human race and that the Celts came up out of India and at which point do I have to stop retracing my cultural inheritance?

(I know, I know – send him a nice note for having to deal with me.)

I’m no less irritated about that now, but… in the clear light of day I’m seeing that he’s likely right. I needed to think about it and avoid causing that offense, if I can. Which I can because it’s really not necessary. And it’s an important courtesy.

These things ARE important. Ruffled feathers or no.