The Power of the Unempowered?

I’m a people watcher. I get this from my MawMaw. She used to take the bus from Mississippi to visit us in Louisiana and always had such tales of the people she would see on the ride. If we’d go shopping, she’d like to sit somewhere central and observe those around her. I do the same thing, using the people I see in my books.

As a writer, I’m cognizant of how fiction imitates real life at times. When I first started reading romance, heroines were virginal twenty-somethings falling for the experienced and often uber-wealthy thirty-somethings. To some degree, this reflected our society. Women were expected to be chaste and always young, waiting for their groom and a Calgon moment. Men could be whatever they wanted.

Fast forward past the ERA, Billie Jean King and Mary Tyler Moore. Burning bras and the push for women to go to college only to get an MRS degree. The women of romance became empowered. No longer content to wait for their man to bring home the bacon, women brought it home, fried it up and fought their way to be CEO of Yahoo and IBM or Prime Minister of England or Germany.

Now it’s a double edged sword. Women have the same choices men have enjoyed for… well, forever. Career. Family. Both. Neither. So I find it almost comical that the most popular show on HBO right now is about women who spend more time cat-fighting like the Kardashians than they do focused on career, family or anything else.

I know. I know. It’s HBO. TV is not (necessarily) reality. But does the interest of the viewers reflect either what society is, or what society thinks reflects what women are?

And if either of those is true, I’m not sure how I feel about that or what it means for romance.

There are nuances to the show that give it depth. Celeste’s troubled marriage. Jane’s troubled past. Madeline…oy…Madeline. The sword of Damocles with the dead body interspersed throughout the cat-fighting. There are serious topics introduced. Teens and sex, bullying and blended families. But rather than see the women working together, we seem them putting each other down in almost every conceivable way.

It’s just handled in such a soap opera manner. I fully expect Marlena to levitate while channeling Satan. So I have to ask myself: is that what society wants? Or is that how they see romance and marriage? Or worse, how they see women? Maybe like romance, this is just a slice of life.

Romance handles the nitty gritty of relationships in too-sanitized a way. We rarely see our hero farting in front of his love interest or get the mid-period granny-panties day of our heroine. That’s real life too. But would our readers want to experience that in print as much as the too-good-to-be-true sex?

Fiction is about the highlights, not the lowlights. Romance is also about the beginning of a relationship and they don’t call it the honeymoon period for nothing. These relationships in this show are more middle-aged. To me, that means comfort as much as challenge. Or maybe it’s because TV focuses more on the lowlights. Like the evening news. We’re looking for the different side of life, even if it’s not pleasant, as a form of entertainment.

The series ended this weekend and I’ll admit, it ended mostly how I expected though it did throw one surprise into the mix for me. I liked that. I don’t want to be able to follow a formula to an ending. That’s what I’m taking away from the whole thing. Surprise your readers and they’ll not only keep turning the pages, they’ll come back for more.



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