Friday, January 09, 2009

Romance Fiction, Male and Female

Back in December, Susan of Texas (The Hunting of the Snark), in a post entitled "Let's Read Some Stupid," features (among others) a paragraph from Stephen Spruiell of National Review Online's (NRO) "The Corner." Spruiell opines:
I'm pretty sure there's never been a period in human history when certain people haven't had this particular kind of unrealistic expectation when it comes to love. We typically refer to those people as women, and they also happen to make up a majority of rom-com-watchers. If there's a connection, it's that women enjoy these films because these films show guys acting like women want guys to act, i.e. irresponsible and hopeless at first before their love for the female lead transforms them into stable, romantic (and telepathic) adults. Stephen Spruiell
Susan replied:
I had no idea The Corner let 13-year-olds write for them.
Which was a good line (as usual), but I had to say:
I dunno. I didn't read the post in question, so I don't know what thesis he was hanging on that assertion about women's narrative preferences. But I think that a lot of the appeal of romantic comedy IS very much because of the scenario he outlines. It's essentially the plot of every romance novel ever written: Bad Boy is tamed by the love of a Good Woman. If you're the right woman and you love him enough, you can always bring him to his knees.

Male romances (aka "Westerns") revolve around the opposite notion: that even the love of a Good Woman CAN'T tame a Bad Boy. After he tastes of (doomed) love, he must always ride off into the sunset. Alone.

Of course, in both romance narratives, the Bad Boy is never all that bad after all. In Westerns he's usually just Dramatically Haunted, by a previous love that didn't work out or an incident of violence in which he didn't acquit himself well enough.

The man's flaws in classic Romance are usually excesses of a traditionally "masculine" virtues (too Honorable, Protective or Independent), or his behavior is the result of a mere misunderstanding that can be cleared up in a climactic revelation scene (after much entertaining angst). Romances can therefore be funny, whereas a true Western is always tragic. A man is what a man is, see, and a man has to do what a man has to do -- and that always means he has to Leave.

Noir fiction of the hardboiled detective variety, another "male romance" genre, has essentially the same theme: It Never Works Out With Women, although in noir it's because of HER, and in Westerns it's because of HIM.

I'm not saying these are realistic themes, or contribute positively to the modern American ethos, but I don't think he's wrong to say that women, even today, are more drawn to Tameable Lone Wolf kind of stories and men are more drawn to stories of Lone Wolves Who Can't Be Tamed.

Personally I like both kinds of fiction, but I'd never mistake them for lessons in living.
Susan anwered:
... I believe he was talking about women wanting immature types that they can make into the type of man they want. I agree many women want to tame a bad boy, but I don't thing they want "irresponsible and hopeless" men to trnasform them into "stable, romantic (and telepathic) adults." I think Spruiell is projecting, here.
True. When are conservatives NOT projecting?

For more on women, men and romance fiction, take in "Tom Terrel's" Ten Ways To Be A Lover: A Man Looks at Romance Novels, a guest story on my moribund Why Your Wife Won't Have Sex With You blog (to which this entry is cross-posted).

P.S. Another relevant story over there is Do Women Prefer Bad Boys?

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