So, I should be writing right now. Really. I need to write. But I was cruising Twitter, as one does when one is staggering beneath the weight of a quickly-closing deadline, and I saw a tweet that basically said this:
“Heroes in romantic stories are wealthier than their girlfriends because if the girl is self-reliant she could dump her man and people who read romance have smallish minds and like it when women are dependent on men.”
That’s not what the tweet said, obviously. Too many characters. But that’s what it said to me, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard it. I’ve actually been thinking about this lately: common tropes in romance, why they exist, and why people think it makes them look enlightened to make fun of them.
I mean, it’s 2017, right? Women can be powerful and wealthy. Women can fulfill themselves. Women can save themselves! You won’t find any damsels here, sir. As you can see, I am clearly wearing pants. And I am wearing them well.
This is not an all-encompassing post about society’s current relationship with romance readers and the tropes they love. But I feel like the writer of this tweet is missing the point of this particular idea, and I wanted to address it.
Giving a female character a wealthy love interest isn’t about her self-actualization or independence, and it definitely isn’t about female readers not wanting those things. Women don’t read and write books with scrappy working-class heroines and wealthy men because we have tiny minds and can only imagine ourselves as the barnacle on some rich dude’s yacht of life. We read them because we’re scrappy working-class heroines, and it’s fun to take a couple of hours and imagine how nice it would be to fall for someone who showers us with paid bills and financial security.
That’s it. There is no deeper meaning.
For me, this relates strongly to the cultural movement that has declared heroines in fairy tales stupid and useless in the sense that, for some reason, we don’t think of princesses as strong, independent, capable women. “Don’t be the princess, be the hero.” First of all, I won’t even address what that says about devaluing femininity because it will make me angry. Second, those princesses are the heroes, that’s why the stories are named after them. No one had a problem with them also being heroes until someone pretended those words were mutually exclusive.Third, you know what women in fairy tales did? Whatever the heck it took to get them out of that nasty scullery. And they succeeded. Wildly. Because back when these stories were written, there was no option for, “And then she got the promotion to Senior VP of Marketing and lived happily ever after the end.”
An ending for the ages.
Relative to most women, princesses and queens held positions of power, authority, and respect. Fairy tale heroines literally climbed the quality-of-life ladder to its top rung (or climbed back up after being knocked to the bottom, in the case of the ones born royal). Don’t try to tell me they were hauled up there by the prince just because they were pretty. I’ve owned a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales since I was eight. They went through hell first. Nobody in those stories is happy until they’ve suffered. Those princesses earned their happy ending. Are the cultural values that made marriage to a powerful man the only way to improve their lives problematic? Yes. But that sounds like society’s problem, not the problem of women who pwned society and took their power anyway.
John Williams Waterhouse, “Lancelot and Guinevere”
It’s kind of twisted, when you think about it. Princesses (aka the epitome of femininity) have been made a joke and a scapegoat. Can we not? Because it’s possible to be feminine and all the other things we want to be: intelligent, hardworking, creative, assertive, and wealthy enough to never need the financial support of a man.
Tropes in romance and fairy tales aren’t evidence that people who enjoy them are backwards or small-minded. They’re evidence that everyone needs an escape from a hard life. They’re evidence that those stories–the stories where the characters aren’t financially secure, no matter how hard they try–are stories a lot of women can see themselves in, and have seen themselves in for hundreds of years. They’re evidence that, hey, most people would be cool if their financial burdens were suddenly lifted by someone sexy who loves them.
Personally, I don’t find it enlightened to mock women (or men) who enjoy this trope. Then again, the bandwagon of intellectual smugness has never been my favorite ride.
Life is hard. It’s okay to dream the dreams that make you happy in your downtime. It’s okay for some things to just be fun.