We can argue about this if you like, but I do not identify with the female protagonist when I read novels. The female lead is not my placeholder. I don’t have a vicarious experience of her life. I know I’m not walking in her shoes. I am aware I am reading about someone other than myself. I’ll admit I do respond to the protagonist, but my response is akin to the protagonist being someone I know. That protagonist, that person is telling me their story. I am, as they say, but a witness.
You know on occasions I climb up on a soapbox and, in suffrage-esque-i-ness sort of way, bellow about representing and supporting romance heroines over the age of 40. So if I claim I don’t identify the lady protagonist, then why is it so important to me, when I am reading contemporary romance fiction, that the romance heroine is represented across a broader age spectrum? My reading tastes may be varied and spread across genres, but, irrespective of the genre, I’ve always been put off by virgins and inexperienced twentysomethings who come across dumber than a slice of toast, even when I was a virginal twentysomething dumber than a slice of toast. For me, in whatever genre I’ve chosen, it’s always been more interesting to read about someone who knows stuff, who’s been places, who’s done things, who’s experienced life beyond high school and a few years of college. Why on earth would I want to read about some just like me? I know my life. I live my life. I learn from my life. I like to see how someone else lives theirs. Older women are so much more interesting, incredibly complex. They have more to say, better stories to tell. In all honesty, the simple explanation for my support mature women routine comes down to one word: Inequality.
And man, does that piss me off.
A woman of a certain age can appear as the protagonist in any other genre, but once you toss a bit of lovin’ and such into the mix, call her the heroine and call the novel a romance, instead of a Mystery, Crime, or Sci-Fi novel, our female protagonist becomes the media’s representation of what the romance fantasy has to look like.
It’s a form of airbrushing.
And we, us women who read romance novels, do this to ourselves. Rather than stand up and demand romantic equality, we let the media, the publishers, dictate how we’ll be portrayed in our romantic fantasies. We let ourselves be airbrushed, or brainwashed, as I prefer, into thinking just because we’re 42, 48, 51 or 60, love, sex, and a happily ever after is out of our reach. Yeah, Bitey-ites, I am talking true feminism. I’m talking Women’s Rights. We need to support each other and stand up to the ‘man,’ to the machine that tells us no, no, no, you don’t want that. You want this.
Well, you know what I want? You know what I want right now? A peanut butter sandwich.