Friday, January 28, 2005

Who You Callin' a Ho?

Exactly when does a heroine go from being a respectable woman with a reasonable sexual history to the village bike? I ask this question because 1) it is the opposite side of the coin from my entry two days ago and 2) I’m currently writing a heroine who…ahem…shall we say, feels very comfortable with her sexuality.

But I don’t want my lovely heroine to slide off the scale of acceptance by the general romance reading population. I’m not ready to write erotica (might never be), so I see that there has to be some generally accepted stopping point.

Not that I want to pander to the uber-conservatives. In fact, I was very encouraged by the opinions offered by Mrs. Giggles and Màili in which it seems that maybe, just maybe, the readership for non-virginal and un-repressed heroines is actually growing.

However, I’m an un-published non-entity who hasn’t earned her wings yet and so therefore can’t fly too far above or below the radar. I’m very aware there is some invisible line that shouldn’t be crossed if I hope to have readers (note the plural) and a career that extends past one book. I just don’t know exactly where that line is.

If we were to apply the same standards of behavior that we allow our heroes – all of those rogues and rakes and ladies’ men – to our heroines, I wouldn’t even be asking this question. If the romance genre didn’t support the old double standard as strongly as it does, I’d write her just as she wants to be. But alas, despite the fact that it’s now the twenty-first century, even the most contemporary of modern heroines face the dreaded whore/Madonna syndrome.

Okay, in order to draw this line, I’m going to throw out some parameters and see where we start to get uncomfortable.

Clearly it is all right for a contemporary heroine to be a non-virgin. With all of those divorcees and widows out there and the fact that a healthy majority of the girls are not even really girls but women in their late-twenties and upwards, seems reasonable to expect that they’d have crossed that milestone before meeting their hero.

However, is how they lost their virginity a factor at all? It’s okay if it was part of a marriage and probably okay if the woman was in college or older. Or okay if it was in a loving, long-term relationship. These all seem to be no-brainers. But what if she lost her virginity in the backseat of her boyfriend's car at age fifteen? Is she now a victim? Is she saddled with regrets over her irresponsibility?

What if her friends got her a gigolo on her twenty-first birthday, telling her it was high time she gave up those stuffy old morals? I mean, how many heroes (okay, mostly ones in historicals) lost their virginity at age 14 to some borderline-pedophile woman-of-the-night?

Seems reasonable to expect our heroine – especially if she’s older – to maybe have had a couple of lovers. Men she’s spent time with as a serial monogamist who just hasn’t met the right guy yet. You know, The One. Of course, with all of these past lovers there was some level of commitment and some emotion that came at least a little close to love. She wasn’t just trying these guys on for size – she took them all for extended test drives before returning them to the dealership for a different model.

How about one-night stands? Is it all right if our lady picks up a hunky guy she meets at a bar, feeling the need to relieve a little work-week stress? Maybe she finds out his first name but has no intention of calling him in the morning. And how frequently can she do this? Is it okay if it’s a Friday night after-work habit, like stopping by for a few beers with the guys? Or maybe only after she’s been through a particularly difficult time in her life – like after finding out her college sweetheart, the guy she put through medical school, is engaged to her best friend.

Does it matter what she wears? If she prefers short skirts and tank tops that compliment her curves, is she a different sort than the woman who stands at the bar dressed in her Anne Klein work-wear while she scans the smoky room?

What if she views men as a challenge? What if she spots a guy and her competitive nature drives her to see if she can score? I mean, heck, men do that a lot in novels. Sometimes with the added incentive of goading from their friends or even a money bet to make things interesting. No plans for much after the waving of the panties-as-trophy. Can our heroine engage in that kind of game-playing?

And here’s the biggie. I know that it is generally good form in a romance novel that once the hero and heroine have met, usually the hero and almost always the heroine refrain from making love to any other woman/man from that point onward. After having met The One, all others pale by comparison. So what happens if our hero and heroine meet but then part and a lot of time passes? What if they revert back to their previous sexual habits until they meet again?

Seems it’s these last four scenarios that get our heroine into trouble. It’s when she views sex as something casual, something that's just another recreational activity, she starts to risk her reputation and the readers’ good graces.

Why is that?

Our heroine is a good person. She works hard at her job. She loves and cares for her family and friends. She pays her taxes and returns her library books on time. She always practices safe sex and isn’t stupid when it comes to her own safety. She’s the kind of woman we all would want to call a friend because she’s warm and funny and a good listener.

She simply enjoys making love. She finds release in it, much the way some people take a long jog or go fishing in order to unwind. She’s proud of her body and revels in the pleasures it gives her.

Men do it. Why can’t women? Especially in a genre that is written by women mostly to be read by women. In the world created by a nearly all-woman task force, why does the double standard still apply?

Of course, I don’t expect an answer. Just asking.


Lena said...

Hi! I enjoyed reading your blog! I feel the same about many of those questions. I have written a few stories myself ( none published or anything) just stuff i have written over the years and i ask myself the same things about double standards and what is or is not aaceptable.
Will come to check out some more here soon
this is my blog

Sela Carsen said...

Do men really do it? Or is it another weird fairy-tale of ours, along with the "gotta get laid 4-5 times a week or lose the virile image" fallacy? And if they do engage in a lot of recreational sex with anonymous partners and find emotional as well as physical satisfaction in it, are they seriously Hero material? Probably not a Hero of mine as I find that behaviour off-putting whether it's a man or a woman.

ma said...

Despite the plethora of virginal or inexperienced heroines around, I've also seen a number of experienced women. Even in category. For example, Virginia Kantra's heroines are usually assumed to be at least somewhat experienced. The heroine in All a Man Can Be had had a string of losers. Admittedly, the books don't usually detail that experience, but it's there.

Anyway, great set of posts. I came here via McVane.