Romance Readers Demand More

Crystal Jackson

I was reading an article on a variety of popular romantic comedies with seriously problematic plots. Some of the plots featured actual sexual harassment and rape while others were just deeply embedded in rape culture. Others were hugely misogynistic and used plot devices that were cliched but wrong in so many ways.

I read the article nodding my head, even for the movies I had enjoyed. But then I read the comments section.

First of all, never read the comments section. It’s a bad idea. Trolls are everywhere. Ignorance abounds. People are just plain mean sometimes.

Almost all of the comments were about how stupid the author was for stating an opinion that they didn’t agree with. The others seemed to think that she was over-thinking movies in general while a whole other group went off on a bitter diatribe about how feminists ruin everything for everybody.

Does this sound familiar? It’s a day in the life of any woman who voices an opinion and/or identifies as a feminist.

But I think the author had a good point. It’s not just about the movies either. Women today are, by and large, demanding more from our romantic comedies and our romance novels.

We don’t want to see any more plots that revolve around cliches that are saturated in rape culture. We don’t want to see the “virgin” damsel in distress being seduced by the overly experienced male hero (yes, 50 Shades, I’m giving you the side-eye).

We want to read and see plots where the characters, both male and female, are strong. We want to see them value consent. We fully expect that screenwriters and authors will step up to the plate with plots that are engaging and entertaining without being problematic.

This isn’t about being politically correct. If you’re a fan of classic film, and I am, you’ll see some uncomfortable things that were once commonly accepted. On the previews of one classic movie, there was a Bugs Bunny cartoon that featured black-face and an appalling accent accompanying it. If you read Ronald Dahl, you’ll read some really racist ideas about people who are Asian.

These things make us uncomfortable because they were wrong then, and they are wrong now. Just because it was once accepted doesn’t mean that it’s okay (Yes, spanking advocates, you’re getting the side-eye now).

Maya Angelou said it all when she basically said that when we know better we should do better. We can talk about problematic themes in movies we adore without getting offended. We can still enjoy those movies. But it’s not outside the realm of reason to demand from current writers a better quality story.

It’s not asking too much to ask that writers not feature a scene where a woman gets raped by an “overly persistent” man and then decide she likes it. Or to have stalking behavior viewed as romantic. Or to have a flat out double standard when it comes to male and female sexuality.

It shouldn’t be a problem that women today want to see stronger plots, as well as stronger characters. We don’t just restrict it to our romance films either. We want to see it in our comedies, in our horror movies, and even in those action films that the stereotype would have you believe we don’t enjoy. We just want stronger characters, period, and no more weak plot devices that rely strictly on stereotypes of feminine and masculine energy.

Of course, writing this at all is putting my head on the same chopping block as this other author’s for daring to suggest that we should know and do better in both film and literature. Cue the trolls and their proclamations that feminists ruin everything we hold sacred, never mind that most of these trolls don’t exactly watch romcoms or read romance novels.

But I digress.

Still, I think it’s important that we take a closer look at our entertainment and evaluate it based on facts and not our emotions. We may have an attachment to a book or movie, but that attachment shouldn’t circumvent our ability to point out problematic themes. Acknowledging them will only make filmmakers and moviegoers, in addition to readers, demand more from the writers.

As a writer, I have no problem with that. Let’s abolish the lazy plot lines that have been so easy to write. Let’s make sure our characters are complex and aren’t relying on outdated ideas of romance, sex, and even gender.

Maybe the problem isn’t even that women are demanding more from entertainment. Maybe the real problem underlying this strong reaction to challenging our ideas of romance is that women are demanding more from their partners.

We don’t want outdated ideas of romance, intimacy, or even gender. We want strong partners who don’t participate, in any way, in rape culture and who value consent.

Maybe the trolls aren’t angry that we’ve talked bad about their favorite movie. Maybe the real problem is that we’re not just asking writers not to be lazy. We’re asking that our partners step up, too.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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