I thought it might be interesting to go back, several years later, and revisit some of these pet peeves. Are they still commonly found in heterosexual romances? Have newer feminist issues emerged, issues that might lead to different pet peeves? How many of these older pet peeves would still rank on my top 10 pet peeves list today? If I took some off, what would I replace them with?
(NOTE: the pet peeves listed below come from reading heterosexual romances. Discussing pet peeves about queer romance is certainly worth its own post...)
RNFF PET PEEVES
1. The "I'll follow you wherever you go; wherever you are is my home" declaration, or, the heroine moves to be with her hero with no sense that the hero would do the same for her (discussed at greater length in this post).
I've not seen this one as much in my reading of late as I did when I first started writing the blog. Have I become better at screening my reading to avoid this trend, or is it really becoming far less common?
2. "But what choice did she have?", otherwise known as the story that backs the heroine into an anti-feminist corner for plot purposes (discussed in this post).
I still come across this one quite often, even in romances purporting to be about strong women. She has to accept his gift/money/help because she has no other choice... She had to give in to stupid, sexist demands because she has no other choice... She has to act in a way that makes her TSTL, because she has no other choice...
Ah, no. You can always choose not to take that gift/money/help, not to give in to sexist demands, not to act stupidly. Authors are always advised to make things harder for their characters, but that doesn't mean they must back their characters into sexist corners to do so. Try thinking outside the patriarchal box, instead!
3. "Baby, you're all that I need," otherwise known as "your romantic partner must and will fulfill all your emotional, physical, and psychological needs"
I'd say that this one is still pretty common (shades of Jerry Maguire). Many romance readers like believing that a heroine who finds her one true love is guaranteed to live happily ever after, because finding her one and only makes her life complete, whole. How many readers actually believe this, and how many know it's an aspect of the fantasy that the romance genre holds out to its readers? Janice Radway, where are you when we need you for some timely reader response exploration?
4. The overabundance of dukes as heroes in historical romances (discussed here).
Since I write historical romance (under my pen name of Bliss Bennet), I personally get annoyed by the completely historically inaccurate bounty of dukes who roam the current grounds of English-set historical romances. A quick glance at Debretts Peerage shows that only 25 non-royal dukedoms existed in 1818. Out of a population of 14.4 million people living in England, only 0.0001735%, or one in every 576,000 English people, held the title. A popular historical romance author today will likely create more than 25 dukes in just her books alone!
Given the way that amazon search engines reward authors who include certain tropes (or aristocratic titles) in their books, arguing against this plethora of dukes seems like a losing battle. So this perhaps wouldn't make a general top 10 list of anti-feminist peeves, but I reserve the right to keep it on my own personal one.
5. When "feisty" is mistaken for "feminist" (see this post)
Acting feisty (or bratty, or snarky) is not the same as acting with feminist principles in mind. Yelling at a stupid guy, snipping at a sexist alpha, ignoring the advice of a potential love interest because he's a man—none of that grants you a feminist card. Working on behalf of other women, on behalf of women's rights, calling attention to sexist behavior, laws, assumptions: those are feminist actions. Books that assume that a feisty, or strong female is also a feminist female still seem distressingly common.
6. Romances that diss feminism (see this post)
I recently read one of the four books that won the first RITA Award (then named the Golden Medallion Award) back in 1982. I'll be blogging about that experience in a future post, but suffice it to say, references to feminism (or "women's lib") in the book are hardly flattering. It's a bit disheartening, if not surprising, to discover such comments in a book published in 1981. But even today, when a romance novel includes the words "feminism" or "feminist," it rarely regards those words as positive. But so few romance novels even use the words that I'm not sure this one deserves a place on a top 10 list anymore.
7. Heroines in historical romances who spout gender critiques that sound more like Ms. Magazine than anything Mary Wollstonecraft or her radical contemporaries ever wrote (mentioned in passing here)
I could write a treatise on this one. But again, this may be my own particular pet peeve. The historical romance market right now does not seem to care much about historical accuracy, at least when it comes to social mores that would rankle contemporary readers' morals or standards.
8. "It's a Guy Thing" (or "Women all do this...) (see this post)
Part of the spice of many romances depends on playing up the differences between male and female characters. Far too often, though, for a feminist's taste, playing up differences between particular characters shades over into definitive statements about what all men do/are/say/act like, and what all women do (or don't do). I don't know about you, but the variation in behavior between individual women seems just as wide as the variation between any particular man and any particular woman. Whenever a writer (either through a character, or in the voice of the narrator) states that "guys are like that" or "women always/never say/do this," I can't help but cringe. This may be the most common pet peeve I have with a lot of contemporary romances.
I've not written previous blog posts about the following, but I'd definitely include them on a top 10 heterosexual romance Pet Peeve list today:
• Heroes who don't take "no" for an answer. Harassment is not sexy
• Heroines who say "no" but really mean "yes." Heroes are NOT mind readers, ladies
• No discussion of birth control before or during sexy times
• No portrayal of consent before or during sexy times
• Evil other women as foils for a virtuous heroine
• Slut shaming
When you put on your feminist reading glasses, what pet peeves annoy the heck out of you?