Where’s the Sisterhood?

28 November, 2011 Musing Musers 19 comments

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There is a trend in the Paranormal Romance Genre that had become extremely popular, unfortunately.  It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly it started in Paranormal Romance but we can see where it clearly became incredibly popular.
So we meet again…
The trend is in the serialized romance novel that the series focuses on a group of men.  TV Tropes calls them a Badass Crew.  For PNRs I call them a Badass Boy Band, sometimes with a token Action Girl.  They are immortal badasses who fight evil.  Each novel will involve one of these men finding a special lady friend to love for all eternity whilst progressing the overall series plot enough for the next Boy Band Badass to find his own groupie in the next book and so on and so forth.
Each book in the series generally contains most, if not all of the boy band immortals fighting evil together.  What happens to the women we meet in each book?  For the most part, they disappear, only to be occasionally spoken about, arrive for weddings or show up occasionally to use their special talents.
What happens when Action Girl meets her own stud in her book?  Generally he somehow joins her in immortality and fights alongside the group, becoming another Boy Band Badass.  Look, I know these novels are just for fun, but it is also an aggravating and incredibly unfeminist foundation to have.  It reinforces the concept that Men are strong, Women are pretty.  Sure you have Token Action Girl there but that just reinforces that she’s different or a freak. 
In fact, sometimes Token Action Girl is only Action Girl because circumstance made her that way but if she had her choice, she’d be at home raising babies.  
  
 
Another take home message of these series is that men can have a story and a life outside of romance, but for women that is the greatest apex there is and once reached, they no longer matter in the grand scheme of things.  It also displays the reader’s lack of interest in female characters outside the protagonist which is disturbing.  It reinforces the unconscious belief that Men Act, Women Are.
But then, still in the media is a long standing lack of female characters since most writers have been male for such a long time.  Who can even guess what effect that has on our gender psyche anymore?
Allow me to give you a situation and you tell me if you think it would make a best selling romance novel.
Action Girl is having it out with her Badass Crew of other Action Girls.  In the face of Unspeakable Evil, she must battle and rage.  She finds that Unspeakable Evil has a man.  This man is terrified.  Crying, whimpering and weak.  She rescues him but not without difficulty.  He slows her down, trips her up and even though she has an unspeakably sexual appeal to him, because he is after all very pretty, she finds it frustrating that he is stupid, stubborn and sometimes lacks serious logical skills.  But that’s okay, it’s just how men are.  Stupid, weak and pathetic.  She must care for his every need.  Especially when he passes out, which he does often.  This sometimes includes bathing his unconscious body and putting him to bed tenderly.  
He often rebuffs her advances out of some misbegotten prudity but eventually gives into his own lusts.  Action Girl has the opportunity to teach him about his sexuality and they go up together against Unspeakable Evil.  He gets kidnapped again and through great pain and strife, Action Girl must save him.  It’s true love.  They run off into the sunset together.
Something tells me test audiences would struggle with this gender reversal and writing it this way makes it seem that much more unbelievable.  Action Girls don’t want pansy, useless, whimpering men.  They want men that can compare to their badassery!  Yet Badass Men will be totally happy and in love with the Damsel in Distress.
It’s the idea that women would naturally want a partner at least equal to them but that men would be happy with a woman as long as she has a functioning, albeit shy, vagina.  It does men just as much a disservice as it does women.  That men must know everything, be able to do everything etc because their partner will inevitably useless is just as sad a story to pass onto the male gender.
We could probably give this a trope name by itself.  Call it the Riley Whines Trope.
 Isn’t it time we became just as invested in the life and trials of female protagonists as we do our male protagonists?  This is a genre written by women, for women.  Why is it just as sexist as every other form of media out there? 
Here’s a test.  Go through your PNR shelves and name the male characters in each book.  Then try and name the female characters alongside them.  I certainly hope you do better than I do because my results were something along the lines of: Troy and massive tits, Harold and long, silky legs, Scott and the bootylicious ass, etc. 
Why aren’t these female characters more memorable like Mac and Barrons?  Why don’t they stand out as real characters that are just as tangible?
Why don’t PNR Authors call a spade a spade and write the adventures of Sparky and his group of Boy Band Badasses who have to save Sparky’s fleshlight from the bad guy?  It would kind of be more realistic.  Sadly, I can only name two PNR series that revolve around a sisterhood type set up and only one of them is in any way popular.
Isn’t it time that we feature more in our own novels?  Isn’t it time for a Black Dagger Sisterhood to showcase real female characters, varied feminine personal struggles and female centered romances?  Isn’t it time that novels reflect the real world in which women are 51% of the population, instead of the fringe?  Isn’t it time our stories are just as valid and readable as a man’s struggles?
Come on, Authors!  Where is the sisterhood?
Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
Kat Kennedy is a book reviewer and aspiring author in the Young Adult genre. She reviews critically but humorously and get super excited about great books. Find her on GoodReads.
Kat Kennedy
RT @huffpostqueer: This couple's princess engagement pics are a modern-day fairytale https://t.co/wY8MbULG0W - 1 day ago
Kat Kennedy
Kat Kennedy

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19 Responses to “Where’s the Sisterhood?”

  1. CuddleBug

    Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series is often based on a female coven of Valkyries. Some books will switch to a Highland werewolf group but still, the Valkyries are pretty good characters. Problem is this series is highly problematic for pushing the Forced Seduction envelope and some other issues.The other one is Bound by Shadow by Anna Windsor which is apparently based on the Dark Crescent Sisterhood. I haven't read it but it was the only one I could find!

  2. Anila

    I love this post, and you for writing it. To be honest, the Action Girl plot you outlined would be something I'd happily pick up to read, too – someone should write it!

  3. CuddleBug

    As I was writing it, I was thinking that too, Anila. But it's still interesting to read the gender roles reversed because it doesn't feel as sexy and I think it's important to recognize these unconscious beliefs, even in ourselves.

  4. Kate

    You can add Katie McCalister and her "Dark Ones" and "Aisling Grey, Guardian" series to these. Whilst disguised as female friendly, and chock full of humor (literally laugh out loud reading them) I am FOREVER irritated by the Male Superior attitudes all the BA Men have in these books. ARGH!!Fabulous article, as usual!BTW- It's not really the adult books that bother me, but the YA books that have this same sort of idea. What are we teaching our teenage girls about their place in the world???

  5. Mariel

    How about Chicagoland Vampires, Kalix Macrinnalch books by Martin Millar, Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey, Elantra series by Michelle Sagara, weather warden by Rachel Caine, Grimspace (ok this is sci fi) by Ann Aguirre… I should be able to think of more… I could for ya and strictly fantasy without the urban part… I suspect that uf and paranormal writers are largely in it for the money.Mercy Thompson series started out pretty bad ass. The last was too dull. Mercy was my favorite uf heroine.

  6. Marg @ Clockwork Reverie

    This post is very insightful and has so amusingly put into words something that has been on my mind for a long time now and is the reason why I stay far away from PNR series like the Black Dagger Brotherhood.I especially love the role reversal bit, not only because it made me chortle, but also because it effectively demonstrates just how abso-frakkin-lutely silly & sexist these overused tropes really are.

  7. CuddleBug

    How about Chicagoland Vampires, Kalix Macrinnalch books by Martin Millar, Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey, Elantra series by Michelle Sagara, weather warden by Rachel Caine, Grimspace (ok this is sci fi) by Ann Aguirre… Kalix Macrinnalch has 1195 ratings on GR while something like while Pleasure Unbound has 7,355. First book of the Black Dagger Brotherhood? 32,898. You just can't compare a small time indie fic to some of the PNR genre's biggest sellers. And all but one of those books you mentioned has under 2000 ratings for it and most of them were Urban Fantasy.The thing is, I am actually referring exclusively to PNR in this post, not Urban Fantasy because UF is sexist in a different way. Read my post on Waif Fu for that one. Thanks Marg!Kate – ugh, I'd have to do a completely different post for the issues in YA.

  8. Elizabeth May

    This, this and THIS. Yes, of course there are exceptions. There are always exceptions. But this IS the rule, exactly as Kat has described. Even when there is an effort to make a strong female character in PNR, her relationship with the MMC seems to pale in comparison to his relationship with his bros. It's a Bros Before Hos nightmare.And don't even get me started on the relationships between women in many of these books. Good lord.

  9. Tullia

    I've just stumbled here from Goodreads and I already know I'm going to love your blog!I agree with almost all you've said in this article, but I'd bundle also Mac and Barrons with the bunch of stereotypical "me strong man, you weak female".

  10. CuddleBug

    Generally, I would agree with you Tulia. I suppose the difference, in my opinion is that Mac makes her own decisions very independently of Barrons and takes charge of her own destiny, also fighting her own battles.

  11. Lavi

    This is one of the best articles I have read in a long, long time. I even went to my shelf and stared in anger at some of the romances there. I don't have many from the ones suggested by your pics, but of course I have some. I did remember some of the heroines, but that is only because of the way I read (slowly, carefully and somewhat obsessively), not because they had touched my soul or brain with their individuality or strength. I do not know why women write their females like this. I am not saying they should be butch, dominating to the point of misandry, but why must these novels be almost the embodiment of misogyny? I have nothing against strong males, actually I prefer them because in real life I like strong (mentally as well as physically) men. But I hate weak women. I do not have any in my family or among my closest friends and I myself am not one, albeit the rest of my numerous flaws are waiting just around the corner. But my point is that strong males should not automatically force the existence of weak females. An equilibrium needs to exist. I am aware of the fact that total equality in a couple cannot exist. We are meant to complete each other. But by this I mean we have an equal distribution of flaws and qualities. Not that one attracts all the pluses like a fucking magnet and the other is surrounded by the void of lameness and weakness. On my way back to the computer I did, however, bear some good titles in mind. These are not strictly romance books, since they tackle a plethora of social, historical, political issues (from the other side of the world as well). These are some of my favourite titles, from one of my favourite authors of all time. One contains an example of how a love triangle fucks up with people, and yet feeds and sustains them so perversely (using rock and roll and the tribulations of India as a background). Another is a sheer ode brought to love, to passion, lust, beautiful and powerful women who are not afraid to live their lives and who basically enslave men with their beauty and value (war, power, dinasties from Italy to Asia, accurate historical events more or less). And the last is my favourite of the three, has probably the least amount of actual romance but is, in my opinion, a very important book, both historically and socially. These books are, in order: "The Ground Beneath her Feet", "The Enchantress of Florence" and my favourite (and the most gloriously passionate, dramatic, tragic and disturbing) "Shalimar the Clown". All three are written by Salman Rushdie. I recommend them to you with all my heart. Now, these are not to be placed in the romance genre purely, and are not meant as series. But they have many varied characters, are all exotic and deeply researched, quite relevant for certain time periods and ALL have magnificent female characters, definitely the ones that have touched my soul and brain. Sorry for the long post, but I have to say, your blog is my new passion. Bravo!

  12. CC Mae

    I totally agree with ALL your Musing Musers posts and I also hate books that are just a load of “Men are strong, Women are pretty” crap!

  13. rosealexandra

    Oh my god I almost spat my tea all over my laptop laughing at the Riley Whines Trope! I actively try to forget the Riley days…
    That aside, this is a huge reason why I tend to avoid PNRs. I just know that they will make feminist!me incredibly angry and I just can’t afford the extra stress.

  14. NickiSyler

    Steph and Kat, just read this for the first time and I have to tell you, you ladies are speaking to my soul. This is why I got into writing. I got tired of reading about women who just let things be done to them. I wanted them to do. To be badass but to have real struggles and for them not to always be struggling about a boy. I guess some of my fiction comes from an anger at women not being able to slap back. I wanted to read stories where women save themselves. I’m going to be writing a post about this and I’ll send it to you if you’d like. But this article is like dead on with how I feel about PNR and the “New Adult” genre. Can I please get something other than freaking cheesy romances? That’s why I’m writing something different for that genre. In any case, as usual, you ladies rock and make me examine myself through my reading.

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