Sunday, April 20, 2014

What is feminist romance & erotica?

Great question from a new friend this week when she saw my blog description: "What is feminist romance and erotica?" I couldn't believe I hadn't thought to write a post about that already!

First let me say that there are many definitions and forms of feminism and therefore many ways of enacting feminism in one's writing. I'm not trying here to explore all those variations, just to explain what I mean by "feminist romance and erotica" and how I intend to enact it in my own work.

My definition of feminism: the radical idea that women are equal to men. Actually, it goes a little bit beyond that. My idea of feminism is the radical idea that all people are equal, regardless of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other number of factors for which people can be discriminated against.

Because of this, my intention in my work is to treat my characters as people - whole people who do not necessarily conform to stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, people who are attracted to other people, not to traditional ideas of masculinity or femininity. My intention is to explore romance and sex as a part of the human experience and to challenge conventions of character, plot and language as I go.

There are too many romance novels with heroes who have broad shoulders, chiseled abs and enormous penises. There are too many romance novels with heroines who have itty bitty waists, heaving bosoms and child-bearing hips. I'm not saying these things are bad; I'm not saying there are no people in the world who fit these descriptions. What I'm saying is that most people don't fit these descriptions (including me!), and I want them to be included. I want to show that people of all shapes, sizes, gender identities sexual orientations, etc. have romance, not just the hetero, cisgender, big-boobed and large-dicked ones.

I will admit that my work to date is relatively cis- and hetero-normative. Although I don't consider myself to be cisgender, I do fall more on the cis side of the scale than some. And I self-identify as heterosexual and live in an enormously cis- and hetero-normative culture, and so I write from that perspective. That said, I do intend to explore the experiences of characters who are not cisgender and do not share my sexual orientation because I want them, too, to be included.

I have already talked, in this post on the language of romance and erotica, about some of my hang-ups related to the language, but I want to emphasize here the extent to which that language can perpetuate traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity. As much respect as I have for Karen Marie Moning, whose book Beyond the HIghland Mists is one of my all-time favorite romance novels, every time she describes Hawk's something-or-other as "very male," I want to throw up. What does that even mean? Does it mean heated? Possessive? Dominating? Does this suggest that a woman can't look this way at her sexual partner and still be a woman?

Finally, I want to challenge the convention that women's sexuality is a passive one, that they should wait for a man to make the first move, follow his lead, submit to his dominating sexuality. In real life, I think that expectation leads, frankly, to some not very good sex. Nobody's a mind-reader. Sex is much better when both (or all) partners are communicative and creative. (See this post for other of my thoughts about conventions of romance.)

So those are some ideas. What do you think "feminist romance and erotica" suggests? Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? If so, what does that mean to you?


  1. I like your explanation here. Your idea of romance is very refreshing and true to life.

    When I first heard "feminist romance and erotica" I thought that you may be writing about situations where women are never dominated by men and maybe even dominate the men that they encounter. I also thought that maybe they were books written from a lesbian perspective (which would be cool). I do think that your definition does fit the genre title well and is a much better idea than what I was thinking when I first heard it.
    I do consider myself to be a feminist! I feel that means that I am sticking up for the under dog. There are a lot of people, even friends of mine, that don't believe that there is/was a need for feminism and even go so far as to say that the movement has destroyed the family unit. I see the opposite. Although we have come a long ways with how we treat women as a society, I still see the downplaying and oppression (dare I say it) of women in our American culture and in the world as a whole. I think that it's a fight still worth fighting and if we were to slack on it, I think that we would take leaps backwards and would soon see the reason that we began the movement in the first place.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read & comment, Andrea!

      You bring up an interesting point about domination. Certainly one of the things I want to explore is the idea that men don't have to be dominating to be sexy...I think partnership is way sexier, actually.

      And I agree with you completely that there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to fighting for equality. Although we have come far as a society over the last hundred or so years, we still have a long way to go.