A couple weeks ago, I featured an interview with Eliza David, author of BrewGirl (which I reviewed, and you can read the post here). Today, I’m please to have her back, sharing her thoughts on feminism in romance. You all know that’s one of my favorite topics, right?
The Nevers: How I Navigate Feminism in Romance Writing
by Eliza David
After self-publishing seven books, I feel as if my writing style is finally coming into its own. I’m not without my doubts, like most writers, but I feel I have a handle on my voice. I’ve learned that I enjoy writing about flawed but fabulous women, specifically those in their late thirties/early forties rediscovering love after heartbreak.
And that ‘love’ often shows up in the form of a virile man who is at least ten years younger than my main character (MC) and can work her between the sheets for hours. (I know. That’s why they call it fiction.)
Beyond the boot-knocking, these taboo May-December love affairs I scribe present other challenges for me. For starters, there’s the whole genre conversation. My books are a little kinkier than ‘chick lit’ but don’t really scream ‘erotica’. How do I maintain a delicate balance between the two? Then there’s the matter of the other F word: feminism. I like to think of myself as a progressive pupil of intersectional feminism, always aiming to reflect those principles in my writing. So, it begs the question: how do I responsibly portray a sexually confident woman and embrace my feminism simultaneously?
Well, captive audience, I think I’ve found the key – a few, actually – that work for me. I’ve instilled three rules of thumb when I’m writing. I call them The Nevers:
- Never make the male conquest the singular goal of the MC.
- Never write a love scene where the MC doesn’t reach climax a minimum of two times.
- Never – by any means – slut-shame the MC.
Let’s break ‘em down, shall we…
The Significant is Secondary
A trend in romance and erotic novels is that the focus of the narrative is primarily on the couple. The pair of them navigate a story together and come out on top, both figuratively and carnally. Writers are taught that in the realm of romantic fiction, a happy ending is not only preferred but required (especially if they wish to sell that happy ending to hundreds of thousands of readers). When I wrote my first book, The Cougarette, I kept this in mind. I was a novice (I still am) and it was my first book – I didn’t know any better. As the series grew, the happy endings were a little tougher to come by because I began placing the men in my main character CeeCee’s life in the background. It not only made for richer stories but gave CeeCee what she and any main character needs: growth. By making her significant others secondary characters, I allowed CeeCee to shine a little brighter through various outlets: her career as an entertainment manager, her friendships, and her fragile relationship with her father. The men she loved mattered (they always do), but the story was about this woman’s strength and triumphs – not just about landing the love (or loves, in Cee’s case) of her life.
Twice As Nice
One of my favorite authors of the moment is Caitlin Moran. Along with Rebecca Solnit and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she is bringing forth a new era of feminist prose that seems to resonate intersectionally – which is what makes feminism so impactful. In her book, How To Be A Woman (which I own both in both print and electronic formats), she dedicates a chapter to pornography. What stood out for me was that one of her biggest gripes about the films is that women never come. I’ll be honest, that had never occurred to me before I read her book. It was one of those lightbulb moments authors have when they read the works of other authors, knowing that it will forever change their own approach at writing. In this case, it changed the intent with which I write my sex scenes. Now, let’s remain grounded: are orgasms the key to bringing down the patriarchy? Not hardly, but it’s definitely a start for the revamp of romance writing. I use a healthy 2-to-1 ratio in favor of the woman when I dole out the climaxes. It walks the line between fiction and reality, hopefully giving my readers a glimpse at what a woman looks like when she is enjoying sex for herself. Crazy concept, right?
The Shame Game
I’m not sure when it happens, but it does. There I am, attempting to peel back the layers of my MC with one of those annoying character questionnaire thingies every newbie writer has grappled with at one point or another. I get through jotting down all of the mundane details the reader won’t care about (eye color, favorite cereal, least favorite word – MOIST!) and I get to the broad question regarding past relationships. In my mind, I think, “What’s her body count?” It’s a reflex, really, and a terrible one. Are we really the sum of the people we’ve slept with? Men haven’t been conditioned to give this a second thought, but it always lingers for women. Hollywood’s even dedicated a chick flick to it! After much trial and error, I’ve made it a point to ignore that nagging voice. I skip right over the relationships question in those annoying character questionnaires, because all it does is lead to slut-shaming my MC. While the details may add some flair to the story, romantic writing isn’t about a body count. It’s about who the MC will evolve into by the end of the narrative.
The takeaway I want my readers to gain from anything I write (including this post) is that women are smart, witty, vulnerable, sensual, aloof, and happy. You know…people. Or at least what all people should be. Feminism in romantic novels and erotica is a fantastic additive. It doesn’t have to be a revolution; it doesn’t even have to provoke very intense thought. It just needs to be responsible. Give the women in your stories flexibility – in the boardroom and in the bedroom.
Eliza David is the Chicago-bred/Iowa-living author of the five-star rated, six-book Cougarette Series as well as her latest release, BrewGirl. A featured blogger for the Real Moms of Eastern Iowa, Eliza also perfects her role as a Habitual Linestepper on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She’s currently querying a romance novel about a fortysomething NYC socialite whose political husband comes out to her. (Trust me, it’s romantic.)
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