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?