I Dream of Romance Heroes Who Defy the Patriarchy

On Saturday nights, my oldest son and I stay up and watch something together after the little kids go to sleep. It’s time just for the two of us. After finishing all of the episodes of Bake-Off on Netflix, we were at a loss of what to watch, until we happened upon a bunch of early 90’s Disney live action films. We watched The Mighty Ducks and Cool Runnings and some others I remember enjoying when I was his age. For the most part, he’s gotten a kick out of them, and we can talk about them later, what’s positive, what’s problematic.

This week Netflix suggested Mulan, and I thought, sweet! A movie about a woman who defies the patriarchy and kicks some major ass. So we watched it, and Mulan does defy the patriarchy (mostly), and she does use her brain and kick some major ass. (By the way, did you know that Miguel Ferrer voiced the bad guy? I had no clue. He was also the villain in Blank Check, because yeah, we watched that classic too.) But the message about gender roles, like how Mulan can’t help but be nurturing bothered me. Then the song about what a real man is was so full of stupid toxic messages that I almost stopped the movie to tell my son that no, that’s not what a man is. And while I am that lame mom that’s going to make him talk to me about, I’m not so lame that I’ll hold up the movie.

But good Lord, I cannot get that song out of my head. I mean, it’s a Disney song sung by Donny Osmund, so it’s catchy as hell, and I’ve been singing it for days. But the chorus has been bothering me for other reasons.

The Chorus (from Google)

Be a man
We must be swift as the coursing river
Be a man
With all the force of a great typhoon
Be a man
With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon

These qualities are describing what it means to be an ideal man: swift, forceful, strong, and my favorite, emotionally unavailable. Looking outside Mulan, how often do we see men depicted this way across pop culture? Real men are strong, real men are assertive, real men are stoic, real men know how to take charge of a situation.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Bullshit.

All it takes to be a real man is to identify as one, but the expectations of toxic masculinity still permeate our culture. They are especially rampant in romance novels.

While the last couple of decades have seen heroines in romance novels gain agency, purpose outside their relationship, careers, and independence, the heroes haven’t come nearly as far. Far fewer of them are rapists. But the popularity of manipulative dipshits like Christian Grey and his hundreds of cheap billionaire-fiction knock offs greatly disturbs me.

I can’t figure out what is sexy about an emotionally disturbed, abusive gaslighter who lets you think you’re being independent while manipulating every move you make. Apparently, all is forgivable (even desirable) if you are young, rich, white, and conventionally handsome.

Christian Grey and his ilk is where toxic masculinity leads us, and just like romance writers need to do better by women than limp noodles like Anastasia Steele, we need to do better by men than Christian Grey.

Compassionate, caring heroes do exist in romance novels, but often I find they are still put on a pedestal by the heroine. He is the sexual agressor and/or tutor. He is the long time crush that makes her feel insecure. He is the suave businessman who somehow wows her with his cool disregard. And she is always striving to be worthy of him somehow.

There is never any question that he might not be worthy of her.

I want to see more heroes take an emotional journey of their own. I want them to come to understand how their socially ingrained misogynistic mindset can work against a successful relationship.

As he was reading latest novel, my husband commented that Ethan, the hero, had to overthrow his inherent misogyny to be with Juliet. I took it as a huge complimemt because my husband is a smart dude, but I hadn’t really thought of it as anything special before that.

Who doesn’t want their partner to think of them as their equal?

That’s fucking sexy.

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Author Platforms and Snake Oil Salesmen

I finished my second draft of my second novel last week and now I’m stuck in the in-between place where I don’t really have a project to work on. It’s two months to Nanowrimo. And that feels like too little time to really dig into the manuscript I have in progress (a romance novel story with a haunted house, how exciting in that?) only to have to set it aside to start something new come November 1st.

I realize that I don’t have to participate in Nanowrimo but I’m going to. I love it.

No, during this 2 months between writing projects felt like a good time to focus on myself as an author whose trying to get published. I am going to write a couple synopses, query some agents and, sigh, work on my author platform.

I don’t think I can convey to you how much I loathe those two words.

Marla’s definition of Author Platform:

The online persona authors are supposed to don in order to sell their books. Usually this persona is some insincere scrap of their real personality that ensnares the masses into a sales funnel where each individual ideally buys ten copies of your book. IE, writing free, snazzy, sparkly content to get attention in a way that tries not to look sleazy but uses all of the online sales gimmicks of those people who try to sell you thousand-dollar classes so that you too can make a million dollars in passive income on the internet.

I would apologize for exaggerating if I didn’t get at least six of those emails a day. More if they’ve got a new $1000 course coming out.

Honestly though, are some good points to putting together a author platform. Namely, nobody can read my books if they don’t know about them. So, in the spirit of making my dreams come true, I’ve been searching for people with integrity (I really like Mixtus Media) who can tell me how to get started.

Combing through all of these websites about how to determine your ideal reader / customer has me thinking a lot about performance.

Since I left the Historical Society I have been working a serving job in the evenings where I present myself in a way that is far more outgoing and effusive and cheerful than I really am. In short, when I’m at work I am an extrovert. I even have a costume that I wear (a basic black jeans and t-shirt unifrom) because it helps me transition to that place where I can excitedly sell beer and burgers.

It feels like some of these passive income sales experts are telling me that I need to adopt a persona similar to what I do when I am serving if I want people to pay attention to me.

I’m not about to try selling my books like that. There has to be more to representing myself authentically then pasting on a smile and pretending to be happy. I don’t want to be performing all the damn time.

I read an article last week about how modern fitness culture is a way for (white) upper middle class Americans to enforce social discrimination. There’s nothing wrong with exercise or eating healthy, but when it is performed to reinforce a system of discrimination for those who are not performing (ie, not thin, not buying the right food, shoes, yoga pants, etc.) there is a problem. And a lot of what I’m seeing from the experts on how to sell my books is that I need to shine up the aspects that are aesthetically pleasing, disregard those that aren’t, then “create value” for what it is you want to sell, usually by making the potential customer feel insecure about how much they really know on the topic, then selling them the solution for only $297.

“Creating Value” is the best way to make people feel like shit about themselves so they’ll spend their money in order to be able to perform success on the internet. Because performing success on the internet makes you an expert in whatever you are selling.

But dear lord, why?

Isn’t the whole point of being your own boss to make a living doing what brings you joy? Because it sure sounds to me like a lot of people thinks it’s about being like everyone else.

So yeah while I am indeed going to endeavor to blog at least once a week and post some photos on Instagram, there is no way in hell that I’m going to adopt another persona and pretend to be that person once or twice a week just to get readers. I don’t need to create value to what I am doing, because my contribution is already valuable. I write books about love stories from a feminist perspective, because I think it’s important to have as many woman characters with agency out there as possible.

I don’t want to play who can win the internet. I’ve never been into role playing games, and I don’t have a character. And honestly, I really don’t think that the same strategies the bozos shilling essential oils use should be the same ones that I use to try and connect with readers.

I just want to be the usual cranky, stressed out, blissed out, distracted by kiddos, preoccupied with my current characters me.

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Bad Romance

At one point in the original Gilmore Girls series, someone says to Lorelai, “You like movies right?”

And Lorelai’s reply is “Good, bad, and in between.”

Ladies and Gents, that is how I feel about the subtle art that is the romance novel. There are good romance novels (anything by Rachael Herron is fantastic, for instance), and there are the bad (Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m looking at you), and there is a whole lot of in between. Folks, I have read them all–well, a lot of them anyway, and I am not in any way ashamed.

So here’s the thing. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say, “I’m not ashamed.” But when I tell people that I read and write romance novels, a lot of the times they look at me, and their mouths are saying, “Oh that’s great!” but the slant of the eyebrows and the tilt of their head is really saying, “Huh, I thought you were smart.”

Guess which one is louder?

I won’t argue about how a good romance novel is some of the most intense, character driven, real shit you’ll ever read. And if you’re going to argue that the main reason romance novels suck is because they are marketed toward bored housewives, we’re not going to make much headway. I’m not here to convince you to take up the romance novel. If you’re not a believer, I won’t be able to convince you, and that’s fine.

What I’m more interested in is the romance novel audience–an audience primarily made up of women, reading about women. And in a good romance novel, that woman usually has to confront some hard shit, and it is liberating and empowering, because she finds a strength inside herself she’d been denying. Lesser quality romances are usually plagued with some pattern of dude bro heroes holding up the patriarchy and the heroines deciding that for some reason, the patriarchy totally turns them on. Gross.

It was a forgone conclusion well before I settled into romance that any work of fiction I penned would be feminist. In a genre that might be a young woman’s first real safe place to explore the idea of her sexuality, that it’s OK to feel desire, a feminist interpretation is more important than ever.

Because I say there are good romances, and bad romances, I don’t necessarily mean the quality of the writing, though they usually go hand in hand. No, what I mean by “bad romance” is the romanticizing of abusive, obsessive behavior from both men and women. There is a prominence for characterizing relationships as such, especially from contemporary indie authors, that I find disturbing.

You guys, it is not OK to to represent abusive relationship as normal. It just isn’t. Yeah, I’ve read them, and it’s like watching a train wreck happen. I have to know how the author resolves this horrible situation, and it usually isn’t to my liking. The heroine almost always is the (anti)hero’s fix at some cost to herself, and the only thing they have going for themselves is their desperate obsession with one another. That isn’t romantic. It’s scary as hell.

What I mean to say by all of this, is that when I say I’m writing romance novels, I’m striving toward the earth shattering, character-driven, feminist approach…and maybe I tend to tweet a lot about bad habits of bad romance writers when I’m reading one of those books.

I’d like to start a discussion about your favorite romances, about heroines that make good role models, and premises that make you want to vomit, and why all of these stories matter.

Stay tuned.

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I Didn’t March for Unity

Women’s March Kansas, January 21st, 2017

I marched in the Kansas Women’s March this past Saturday. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the march from both sides, and a lot of people who didn’t really understand what it was about. Unity was a word I heard bandied about a lot, but unity with what? With whom? Certainly not the current government. Certainly not with those telling us to keep calm, keep quiet.

This march wasn’t for unity. It was a rallying cry, a starting place, an all-inclusive launching pad for a movement that won’t stop fighting for the freedoms of everyone in this country. A friend of mine on facebook put it well when she said, it wasn’t just a women’s march, but a human march.

I didn’t march for unity.
I didn’t even march because I am afraid of losing my rights.

I marched for all of the men, women, and children in this country who are still fighting for the ease of my white, middle class life.
I marched so that as my kids get older, they will have support should they need it.
I marched so that when Felix and Rufus get to school age, there’s a school worth going to.
I marched for clean water.
I marched for LGTBQ rights and civil rights.
I marched for religious freedom.
I marched for healthcare, for birth control, for the right to choose.
I marched for immigrants, for refugees, for peace.
I marched because climate change is real.
I marched for Kansas where the fight’s been going strong for six years
I marched for all the ways each of those things intersect across so many injustices.

I marched for you on Saturday, because you deserve Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, and so does everyone else.

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The Day After

This morning I awoke with a knot in the pit of my stomach.

I feel like I should have done more.

Most of this past year, I have been focusing my mental energy inward. I was growing a baby, preparing myself for labor, trying not to panic about the logistics of bringing another member into our family.

I did not have energy for the political.

I knew I was with her from the beginning.

The other candidate’s speeches were incomprehensible and tailored to incite rather than to unite.

I am the person who called sexism and racism. Probably the one you brushed off because I didn’t say it loud enough.

Today I am in mourning. I am grief stricken. I am outraged. I want to give Hillary Clinton a big hug and tell her that I was honored to vote for her yesterday. That her name was even on the ballot was a huge victory, and I know how hard she fought. But I also know that it is not enough.

It is not enough in a world where a woman has to be perfect to compete in an arena where men are routinely corrupt.

It is not enough in a world where people of color don’t feel safe in their homes.

It is not enough when LGBTQ people are shot down in what is meant to be a safe place.

It is not enough, and I didn’t say it loud enough.

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Avoiding a Pinterest Pregnancy

I love pinterest. It’s my go to website when I’m searching for new recipes, new workouts, business tips, or just want to look at something pretty for a little while. Pinterest is the best way I’ve found to find new blogs to follow and knitting patterns I would have missed on ravelry. Lately though, my pinterest feed has turned into a really negative place to be.

It began when I started my August Baby board. When I learned I was pregnant with this new little one, I was more active than I ever had been. I was walking, doing yoga, and had just started karate lessons. I was having a blast and wanted to continue that activity safely into my pregnancy. I did drop the karate, but in the interest of continuing my fun, I pinned a couple things about working out safely while pregnant, and in the postpartum period.

More pregnancy-related pins showed up on my feed, and I clicked on a few of them, usually something about morning sickness or ways to help reduce ankle swelling. They were benign enough at first, but then the tone began to change. I was getting lists of ten-must do’s during the third trimester, what I have to pack in my hospital bag, and worst of all, pin after pin after pin showing full-term pregnant bellies as a before picture next to a sculpted-ab after photo. Next to those were pins about how to avoid ugly parts of pregnancy, like gaining weight anywhere but in your belly. Next to those, how to avoid stretch marks.

The theme was becoming pretty clear. Pinterest was telling me that the way my body looked was the most important part of my pregnancy. Oh, there were still the “Do this and you’ll have an easy natural labor” pins mixed in there with a couple actually helpful breastfeeding pins, but for the most part, my pinterest feed mostly cares about how skinny I’ve stayed this pregnancy.

Guess what? I haven’t.

Since I didn’t start out skinny, I’m not all that bothered. Do I still exercise? Yes. Do I do work out to be skinny? No. I do it to be strong. To keep up with my kids. To not have to ask for help when I want in the peanut butter or the sauerkraut. (No, I don’t eat them together.) I exercise so I sleep better, so that my back and hips don’t hurt like hell when I have to sit at my desk all day. I exercise because I like competing with myself on my step-count each day, just for the sheer sport of it.

In fact, this whole working out thing is pretty darn selfish of me.

But that’s just it. I do it for me.

I have enough to worry about what with growing a human and preparing my family for his or her arrival to be constantly concerned with how gross other people think my body is, pregnant or not.

34 Weeks
34 Weeks

And honestly, I’m feeling pretty darn cute.

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