I am a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy Summers kicked major ass. She’s a heroine who saved her friends and the world on a weekly basis for 7 seasons. Even when she was weak, physically and emotionally, she was still strong. One of my all time favorite episodes is “The Body” where *spoiler alert* Buffy comes home and finds her mom dead on the couch. That episode makes me cry every time. But it’s perfect because it showcases how this powerful slayer can kill demons, vamps and save the world but she couldn’t save her mom from a brain aneurysm.
I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been heroine bashing (in my mind, while reading). When I read a romance, I have such high standards for the heroine. Why is that? Is it because I expect women not to be weak, whiny and stupid? Pretty much. I can’t stand whiny women in real life so why would I want them in my contemporary romances? I think my bashing is due to the numerous romances that feature 20-something heroines. I’ve already touched on the subject in a previous post where I can’t relate to them and don’t want to read about them. Period. But now they’re everywhere! This doesn’t just pertain to the young’ns. Stupidity happens at any age.
Back to Buffy for a moment. (This is a ranty and rambling post so I’m gonna be all over the place.) At the age of 16 she was kicking ass and taking names while trying to live a normal teenage life. When she whined, she whined about not being able to go to college because the world depended on her, or possibly missing prom because some nutbag was about to unleash hellhounds on the school. One of my favorite lines when Buffy’s death was prophesized is: “But I’m only 16. I don’t want to die.” Ugh! That vulnerability underneath all that strength. Love it. What’s my point? My point is — I blame Joss Whedon. He’s the reason why I have zero tolerance for whiny, weak women. In TV and movies he sets such a high standard for what strong female characters should be that I now expect it to be reflected in what I read. Damn you Joss!
Joss Whedon writes great female characters. This is why I worship him. Plus he’s pretty much a genius.
You can be vulnerable without being whiny about it.
Where are the strong female characters in romance? Romance seems to be extreme in it’s portrayal of women. The heroine is either whiny and pathetic or strong, independent and bitchy. Can we not have the bitchy? Or so independent that it grates on your nerves. There’s no middle ground. Where’s the middle ground?? Why are we still accepting the stereotype of women being fragile and needing a man to rescue them? It’s 2013. Women can rescue themselves AND get the guy. I’m looking at you Tyler Perry.
Is having a strong female lead so unappetizing to people? We are not the weaker sex. We give birth to human beings.
In the contemporary romance world, there aren’t any kick-ass heroines. Well, I guess they can be kick-ass but in a different way. If you want to read about a kick-ass heroine, you pretty much have to read Urban Fantasy and some PNR. I like some UF but not all. I need romance in my story. I need someone to break me out of this. I’m sure I’m missing out on some awesome Urban Fantasy books. But I’m sure I can overcome the lack of romance if the heroine is pretty bad ass.
UF writers can write a strong heroine but still let her have weaknesses. Contemporary Romance authors write strong heroines and she tends to be a bitch and unlikable. Where’s the disconnect? Strong ≠Bitch. Weak and Whiny ≠Feminine.
I’ve noticed that the moment the heroine shows a hint of what I perceive as weakness, I check out. I’m immediately in “girl get a spine” mode. Why? Because I know it’s all surface level shit. I need deep-seated hurt where it almost destroys the heroine. As long as there’s no whiny back-story about how her boyfriend cheated on her and she can’t trust men…blah, blah, blah..or the guys she’s dated in the past don’t do it for her…poor me…wah, wah, wah. Move on.
I’m at the point where if the heroine’s back-story involves being dumped or jilted, my immediate thought is “who cares?!” I laugh as I type this but it’s how I feel. I hate a complainer. I’m tired of the “past boyfriend did me wrong. I hate all men” back-story. Who hasn’t been dumped or jilted or had a terrible boyfriend? People break up! Shit happens. Give me something new!
I forget where I was going with this….
I guess my point is if a man can write a strong, well-rounded female characters then why can’t we have that in romances which are written by women? If I was a writer, I would write a heroine that was a combination of my mom (cause she is hilarious), Buffy, Wonder Woman and Olivia Pope. Beautifully flawed, strong women with a hint of sass, nice boobs and a golden lasso but won’t hesitate to get up in your face if the situation calls for it. It’s handled. <—Scandal reference.
I guess contemporary romance isn’t meant to be that deep. It’s formulaic and a lot of people, including myself, read it because we know what we’re getting. But as I get older, I’m starting to notice that the formula isn’t working for me anymore. I love the HEA but I just wish authors would take a different road to get there.
I need a hint of darkness in my romance. Rainbows and unicorns ain’t doing it for me anymore. I’ve noticed lately that the romance stories that stick with me and that I like the most have dark undertones.
Maybe using Buffy the Vampire Slayer as my model for romance heroines wasn’t the right way to go but there’s a reason why, when I was thinking of this post and the title, Buffy was the first character that came to mind. The show was campy, emotional, fun and dark. It’s the dark side of Buffy that I liked the most. The ability to be vulnerable when everyone expects you to be strong is what made me love that character so much.
What’s my point? Whiny is bad. Strong (but not bitchy) is good. Variety is the spice of life. Change the formula. Joss Whedon needs to start writing romance novels.
If you haven’t watched BtVS, I suggest you do so immediately. I think all of the seasons are available on Netflix. And if you need help deciding whether or not to watch it, check out this list of the 10 Reason Why Buffy Kicks Ass. I love the final line in this list: “Instead of the blond bimbo, we have a beautiful, yet flawed, heroine who constantly saves the day — and isn’t just arm candy for the men in her life.”
I can’t believe the show has been off the air for 10 years. *pours some liquor out for the Scooby Gang*
So did this post make any sense? How do you feel about heroines in romance novels? Am I expecting too much? Share your thoughts!
p.s. – I can’t believe how long this post turned out. I didn’t even touch on Buffy’s relationships with men. I’ll save that for another post, another time.
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