For years, I have talked about the lack of age representation in romance on OldBitey. First on the Oldbitey LiveJournal Blog, then here. But yesterday somebody else asked me the questions. Yesterday, I was on my soapbox on someone else’s blog: Read in a Single Sitting, and I was Advocating for older protagonists in romance fiction. If you are familiar with Oldbitey, you know my spiel, you know my PhD research is all about mature-aged romance heroines, but mostly I am really an advocate for inclusion.
I love romance fiction. I read across all genres, but I have a special place for romance. In romance there is something for everyone. Yes, there is a lot of ‘white romance,’ but there is also some diversity outside the white hetro romance. There are m/m romance, lesbian romance, there’s even ethnic diversity if you look for it–not a lot, but it’s there. You can find stories of cross-cultural romance (Sheiks and Greeks anyone?), plus-sized heroine romance (although what makes plus-size is up for discussion) and inter-species romance (e.g. weres, vampires, aliens, shapeshifters). There are, however, certain demographics seldom represented as protagonists in romance fiction. There is lack of heroes or heroines who are amputees, wheelchair bound, or have physical or mental challenges–such as Tim in Colleen McCullough’s Tim —the only romance I can even think of where a protagonist is, as McCullough puts it “not the full quid,” which of course speaks volumes to the attitude regarding disability of any sort. While ‘challenged individuals’ come in all forms, special demographics confront something that romance often wrestles with. The question becomes: How real is too real in the fantasy of romance?
There is a strange idea at work here with regard to the idea of how ‘real’ the romance fantasy can be. Some say too much realism ‘spoils’ the fantasy for them, but that is only when it comes to the age of the characters, as well as physical capability and mental capacity. Some readers prefer everything to be whole, pretty and young. All the time. Yet even within that whole, young prettiness, romance is incredible for addressing real life social issues, mores, and cultural standards, and changing the attitudes about them. Rape, divorce, single parenthood, abuse of all sorts, sexuality, the position of women in in business, in schools, in professions have all been poked and prodded and interrogated in romance and have transformed social sensibilities. These matters do not appear to be ‘too real’ to be included in a romance fantasy. So what the hell’s the matter with including the other incarnations of real human life in the fantasy?
The interesting hard fact is, the romance genre transforms itself and becomes more inclusive with each year. One day, I expect to see an even broader choice for all tastes, a broader scope of real people given the opportunity to participate in the fantasy because that’s what romance does.
Meanwhile, as you ponder my musings, I’ll let my awesome scarlet cape flap in the wind and stand poised on my soapbox, ready to swoop down and defend and support forgotten demographics.