So, this article on Booksmugglers has been doing the rounds today: Reader, I Didn’t Marry Him–I Kicked His Jerk Ass to the Curb
It’s an opinion piece by a contributor, so it’s hopefully not reflective of what the regular Booksmugglers think (which I’m relieved about because they’re usually a good read), but it’s problematic. Not because I think the writer is wrong about the presence of sexist douchecanoes in fiction, that’s a very good point and a good discussion to have. Her issues with Jane Eyre reflect my reading experience, for the same reasons she quotes. I never could understand why Meredith loved McDreamy. The sexist douchecanoe absolutely exists across many types of media and is off-putting to huge swathes of us when it appears.
If the piece had clearly flagged that she was discussing the trope in the context of many types of media, which has been the explanation given on Twitter so far, then it probably wouldn’t have enraged anyone. There would have been some discussion, but romance land wouldn’t have gone ballistic over it.
No, the problem is that the introduction to the article says that the sexist douchecanoe (or the alphahole, as romance folks call him) trope is her reason for not liking romance. She admits that she’s never liked romance, preferring action and horror instead, before saying that she decided to give romance a try because so many people were talking about the genre in a positive light. She even links to Sunil Patel’s article about his discovery that romance is pretty great.
And then she spends the rest of the article talking about why this specific trope has confirmed her dislike of romance, examining a number of works that feature it, only one of which is actually in any way part of the romance genre (JD Robb’s Naked in Death), and it’s an old one at that, not reflective of the current state of romance.
That’s why the article is getting so much anger. A person who admits to being a romance newbie with a biased opinion went in, read some selected works that aren’t part of current romance genre trends, and declared that romance is awful because of the a-hole heroes. Then she wrote an article discussing the trope, complaining that she’d never seen it subverted in the romance genre and it’s what puts her off romance, and picking examples from every other genre to prove that it was everywhere. That is what is getting people so angry.
It’s getting people angry because it’s been done So. Many. Times. Newbie romance reader picks a few bad examples, gets angry about romance, declares it’s as awful as she thought, and writes a blog post about it.
If the article had just been about the sexist douchecanoe trope without the romance-related build-up, it would have been fine. It would have been interesting, although it isn’t exactly a new discussion. The problem is the equating of romance with the trope and then cherry-picking works that feature it (and aren’t actually romance), before closing with comments about how this trope is romanticising unhealthy relationships and bringing it all back to romance again.
What would have been better? Well, not having someone who started out with an anti-romance bias write the article would definitely have helped. Romance land has regular discussions about the trope, there are plenty of works subverting it, and posting an article about it from this point of view on a mainstream blog would have been great. It could have generated discussion about the ways romance writers have taken the trope and changed it, with recommendations for further reading, so that new romance readers could really get something out of it.
If it wasn’t going to be written by a romance fan, then not mentioning romance and writing the article as a cross-genre, cross-media dissection of the trope would have been better. It would have been thought provoking, without picking on one specific genre.
Yes, there are definitely romance books out there with alphahole heroes that go unexamined. Yes, it’s a toxic stereotype that appears across all genres, too. There are interesting discussion to be had about both issues, if they’re not approached in the way this article was.
Presenting the sexist douchecanoe as the biggest turn-off in romance is problematic. It’s not the only hero mode in romance. These days, it’s not even the predominant one. If you’re going to try to convert a newbie to romance, throw them something more current. Send them Courtney Milan’s books, which are unrepentantly feminist and filled with romance, not an alphahole in sight. Or Tessa Dare, or Rose Lerner, or Sarah Maclean, or KJ Charles (for m/m romance fans). That’s the kind of thing that people like Sunil Patel are championing, not out-dated 1990s romances or turn of the century gothics.
And that’s why romance land is up in arms about this article: it is equating all romance with one problematic trope, stating it’s why the writer doesn’t like romance, and using examples from multiple medias outside the genre to back up her opinion.