Have you read Jennifer Weiner’s New York Time article, We Need Bodice-Ripper Sex Ed? It’s an interesting take on sex and the romance genre. In it Weiner states:
The literary establishment doesn’t have much love for women’s fiction, whether it’s romance or erotica or popular novels about love and marriage. Romance novels come in for an extra helping of scorn. Critics sneer that they’re all heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods, unrealistic, poorly written and politically incorrect.
But those books, for all their soft-core covers and happily-ever-afters, were quietly and not-so-quietly subversive. They taught readers that sexual pleasure was something women could not just hope for but insist upon. They shaped my interactions with boys and men. They helped make me a feminist.
Many people reading that paragraph may have latched on to the fact that romance novels provide sex education. Which they do . . and they do teach women that sexual pleasure is something to insist on . . as Weiner eloquently writes, but what jumped out at me is the statement “They helped make me a feminist.”
We all have our definition of what constitutes a feminist. . . but in my mind the simplistic definition of a feminist is: a woman who is not afraid to speak up and out. . . and to insist on being treated fairly and equally –in the workplace, and in relationships.
Some of you might question in relationships, because doesn’t loving someone mean making compromises. It’s not about keeping score, it is caring enough about another person to put their needs first.
Self-sacrifice is a concept we as women are very familiar with. Our mothers and our mother’s mothers were raised to put their husbands’ and families’ needs first. The wife working to put her husband through college is a true cliché because it happened. Women work very hard to make relationships work because we value friendship, we crave love and many of us want to raise families. Still even today, we grapple with balancing our needs with the needs of the people we love. Of course, there is give and take in love – but we’re struggling with taking – with putting our needs first. Doing what others might consider selfish –but really is in valuing ourselves. Because if we can’t ask the people who love us, to consider our desires, then how are we going to stand up for ourselves with strangers.
Do you remember the first time the first time you watched Kramer vs. Kramer, the Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman drama? I do. Initially, I thought Meryl Streep’s character was horrible person; her actions unforgivable. How dare she abandon her child? Today, watching it I would be more sympathetic. Because she had no road map to self-fulfillment.
Recently I found a set of books that illustrated that roadmap –three books by JoJo Moyes—Me Before You, After You and her latest book, Still Me. Although I do have to admit, for the sake of honesty, I didn’t read Me Before You –I tend to stay far away from sad. But I love reading about women “picking up the pieces” type stories–so I opted to read After You and was charmed. . . until the end. The ending was a happy- for- now, instead of a happy-ever-after. How could Louisa Clark, after experiencing the loss of a great love, and then finding it again, pause it to run off on a great adventure?
But after reading Still Me, the ending of After You makes perfect sense. Because Louisa Clark still had some lessons to learn. In fact, Louisa experiences a whole metamorphosis over the course of the book. At the end of After Me, Louisa’s boyfriend, Sam, is the one to encourage her to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime—leave England and work in New York City as a personal assistant for a very wealthy family. While she desperately wants to go, she also feels like she should make the ultimate sacrifice for love and stay with Sam.
Well, not in this romance novel, and it shouldn’t be in real life. I don’t want to go into too many details –in case some of you haven’t read Still Me. But, ultimately, Louisa learns that it is important to put herself first even in a loving relationship. She asks the other person to make a compromise for her but more importantly she believes that she is worthy of that compromise.
And believing that you are worthy of good things is the key to opening lots and lots of doors. Because if we believe we’re worthy, then we’ll find our voice and demand it. And that is an important lesson to pass down to our daughters. A message found in a romance novel.