Metonyms of Romance

Gender roles in popular love stories

Read time: about 6 minutes

It is the turbulent times of the 800s, when the Vikings raided Wessex and Mercia. A Viking woman is enslaved by an Anglo-Saxon lording. After a series of unfortunate and misbegotten turn of events, the ‘slave girl’ falls in love with her “lord’s” hate-filled eyes.

Can this be more of a drag?

Yes, it took me six days to get through one page of this romance novel. Of course, it was a blatant falsehood that the punch dialogues and steamy sex sequences keep the reader hooked. With misogyny stamped into every sentence of the meaningless excuse of a light-read, this book broke all standards of the priggish, jealous and possessive love interest.

After painfully going through several of these horrors, it becomes evident that certain books in the romance genre have thumb rules.

The prowler-type jealous man

The incredibly jealous male, who goes about snatching his ‘lover’ and ‘possessing her’ is the ideal man. No ladies, one cannot hope for a successful marriage without a man who takes away your choices. These books suggest that if your man does not control your every move, then he does not love you.

Of course, every woman wants to willingly give away her ability to make her own decisions. How dare we hope for anything better? However, this trope is passed off as rule number one for a successful romance.

In one of the books, the male lead says, “How can you be the judge of what’s best? You are but a woman.”

I would have probably given the man a good dressing down but our frail and delicate darling of a female swoons and says, “Of course you know what’s best”.

Dumbing down the woman’s character is right on top of the ladder and the authors seem to have no problem portraying the women as such.

The virginal woman and the rapist male lead

You heard it right. These books have an influx of virginal women who have trouble understanding the age-old method of procreation, let alone locate their vaginas. Did the authors of these books believe that a grown woman was not at all aware of her own body part?

To add insult to injury, these books make the reader’s skin crawl by pairing the women in search of their vaginas with men who have been around the block.

These “lost women” are utterly beholden to angsty men and seem to believe that they “made love” when in reality they are survivors of rape.

Certainly, the books seem to portray women as mere objects to move the plot along. They also come in handy once in a while – especially when they first discover their vaginas.

In the slave girl-Anglo Saxon lording book, the woman is chained and pushed into a room where she fantasises about the “lord” who just a few minutes ago spewed vitriol at her and vowed to destroy her.

Soon after, the brutish man enters her room, grabs her and rapes her. When the horror concludes, the woman has a “sated smile” on her face. Cringe.

In my opinion, the perpetrator should be brought to book but the shallow and sexist plot doesn’t think so. Can this get more absurd?

Not all books have perpetrators of rape as the male lead, but they do have one thing in common. The woman most certainly does not feel like she has a choice about entering a sexual relationship with the man as she “lacks experience” and must simply go along with the him as he knows the “rules of sexual intercourse”. Since when did lack of consent become romantic?

This attitude is doubly alarming when coupled with the male lead’s aggressive behaviour and tendency to want a virginal woman as his companion for life.

Rape is used in these books as a way to give the heroine what she “truly wants without her having to ask for it”. This twaddle of sexist writing paints the man as an animal who cannot control himself in the presence of a woman and has no issue raping her, while also implying that women cannot openly want to have sex.

The superhero ‘I can do it all’ man

The obscene melodramatic plot lines portray most male characters as rowdy ruffians who have severe anger management issues with an emotional IQ of a potato.

These doucheturnips of course, have bodies like that of steroid-pumped body builders. They are unreasonably handsome – the ideal gentlemen.

The lopsided archetypes can vary from being men who know what’s best for his lover to men who are such paragons of virtue that the women must simple accept the man’s better judgement. Such depictions engender a false sense of entitlement about women and their bodies.

In one such book, the ideal doucheturnip, who has given in to every misogynistic stereotype is the only one who can save his unimaginably beautiful lover.

The gorgeous woman is riddled with scarlet fever and lands up in a chicken coop where the inhumane birds poop on her horrifyingly lacerated skin.

Set in the Elizabethan era, one can assume that one simply did not recover from scarlet fever, and if they did, it was in very rare cases.

In this book, the superhero of a man cures his lover of scarlet fever by dabbing wet clothes on her body. His eternal love pulls her out of an intolerable disease. This guy is definitely the king of doucheturnips.

The low down

Misogyny: the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in multiple ways, including sexual discrimination, hostility, male supremacist ideas, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.

When romance is considered as something which brings readers, stories to excite, why is it still okay for misogyny to be a part of the plot? In this age of progressive thinkers, how is it possible to pass of sexism as a cultural norm?

These cringe-worthy sexist concepts in widely-read books do not end. These books not only promote an unhealthy view of relationships but also provide skewed perspectives of contraception and sexual health. These are actually non-existent topics in these stormy romances.

In certain books, the male lead’s first contact with the woman is sexual assault and yet this trope is passed off as an acceptable idea.

I want a lead who does not sexually assault the woman he is attracted to on first contact. I want a female lead who is able make her own decisions and is shocked by the blatant crimes perpetrated against her in the name of romance. It is appalling to read about women submissive as mice to a blob of cheese and have no choice other than to accept what’s doled out to them. Too bad.

Writers create culture. Books are powerful tools which have the ability to set standards and change minds. In this age, is it too much to ask for a book which portrays gender equality?

Romance books aren’t stories of real life events but they aim to echo it. These books need to go under the misogyny scanner before being published.

Until writers and publishers collectively make an effort to filter out these sexist concepts, it would be hopeless to believe that there could be a romance novel which will not make you cringe.

Theja Ram

Theja Ram is a journalist, a non-conformist, a lover of baby animals. She likes to eat, writes to fill a void, and rolls her eyes at social structures.

Bengaluru, KA