Treat Her Like A Lady (Not A Hag)

Simon de Beauvoir suggested that few writers have championed age in women, and she's right. From evil stepmother to “cougar,” there are a number of not-so pretty representations of women as they age in romance fiction, which is odd considering that through its depiction of female protagonists, romance fiction has so often reflected the attitudes and concerns women face in society.

Think about it. In contemporary romance novels, issues such as divorce, being overweight, and the global financial crisis have made their way into the lives of a romance heroine. The one subject that hasn't been addressed, except in fearful terms, is women and ageing (or aging for you Americans).

You may not agree, but It's my theory that the portrayal of heroines in romance novels is bound by the constraints publishers place upon them. There are two no-no's a romance heroine can't be: a bitch or too old. The Too Old Rule is evident in the way female protagonists over 40 are pushed out of romance and into subgenres such as Hen Lit and Matron Lit. In these subgenres romance no longer exists, or romance is a marginal issue, rather than the main impetus that leads the story.

When a woman of a certain age does appear in romance she is seldom the protagonist. An older woman in romance (in print and on the screen) is more likely to be a secondary character in a stereotyped role such as a grandma, the menopausal friend, or worse–she's made into some kind of monstrous figure. She's turned into the bitch, an evil stepmother, the caricatured over-sexed cougar, the scared of getting older chick with the frozen-faced-collagen-trout-pout, or a smothering, no-one's-good-enough-for-my-boy-mother-of-all-mothers.

This shift from lead to, to villain, to background serves to highlight romance publishing's unwritten Too Old Rule. Some publishers (and some of you) may believe this progression from romantic lead to supporting player is because romance is all about the fantasy. To me, this forced progression suggests the fantasy has to fit certain criteria which exclude age. To me, this implies publishers (and perhaps some of you) think no romance reader is going to relate to an older romance heroine. We all know the fantasy of falling in love does not apply to anyone over 40 because people over 40 don't fall in love. Right?

That utter bullshit aside, let's take a poll. First, hands up. Can older women in romance be defended as romantic leads? Do they deserve love despite their age? Is age truly a monster to be feared? Or should women over 40 simply be nipped, tucked and slathered with vanishing cream? Now vote below!

Do you read romance fiction?
Yes
No

Is age a monster to be feared?
Yes
No

Can women 40+ be romantic leads?
Yes
No

Does a the heroine's age negate the romance fantasy for you?
Yes
No

Have you ever read a romance featuring a heroine over 40?
Yes
No

If you answered 'yes" to question 5, what novel did you read?

3 thoughts on “Treat Her Like A Lady (Not A Hag)

  1. I’ve read one or two with 40+ heroines, but not many. I read one with a post-menopausal heroine – the author called it Hag Lit, which was a bit of a marketing fail for me.

    (Nicola O. here – idk why LiveJournal thinks it should be able to look at my contacts)

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    • By any other name…

      Hag Lit = total marketing fail. It’s up there with Matron Lit, only worse. I don’t know why it can’t simply be called romance. Was romance the driving force of the post-menopausal story you read, or was it the whole post-menopause angle?

      OB

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  2. Yes, yes, yes, yes and no. But I’m happy to write one! If ebooks can do anything for us, I hope they can remove these artificial limitations imposed by publishers on what is acceptable. While I am sure there are some readers who do prefer the status quo maintained in their romance, I am equally sure that there are plenty of others who would like more real-world representations in their characters.

    Okay, not annonymous, it’s Imelda here, but it won’t let me use my WordPress ID!

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