Thank you so much, Ali, for inviting me here to talk about one of my favourite subjects: Strong Romance Heroines. I love reading them and I adore writing them, but before I get to gushing my praise all about the place, there’s a question that first needs to be posed. Is there any other fictional character quite so consistently misrepresented or so disdainfully dismissed within the general public mindset? Not that I’m aware of.
It’s a good thing, then, that they’re tough enough to take the flack.
While the non-romance reading portion of humanity (poor unfortunates) seem determined to perpetuate the ill-informed stereotype of all romance heroines being helpless damsels waiting to be saved, my fellow devotees will, of course, know better. It comes as no news to us that far from being weak, the majority of romance heroines are forces to reckoned with. We appreciate that on the rocky road to True Love, those damsels are every bit as likely to do the rescuing as to find themselves in need of it. We revel in the knowledge that they can, and frequently do, kick some serious metaphorical butt in the pursuit of their Happy Ever After.
And, really, why should anyone expect anything less of them? If the world of romance is populated by strong, capable, incredible heroes, it’s only right that their heroines should be every bit as awesome: a perfect match. That’s not to say that every leading lady in every romance novel needs to take the form of some all-conquering superwoman, charging at life head-on and obliterating all obstacles in their path (although there’s more than enough room for such alpha heroines and their stories). So what makes a Strong Romance Heroine?
On one hand, a hero’s strength is pretty easy for us to measure, being commonly represented by masculine physicality, toughness, powerful social position, etc. But with fewer obvious external traits on which to rely, it’s subtler feminine counterpart can be trickier to determine. Not least because of the many guises it can take.
A keen observer, however, doesn’t have to look far to see that – whether manifesting itself as bold and brave or as a quiet, enduring fortitude – strength is a defining characteristic amongst romance heroines across the board. It’s there in the medieval lady of the keep who has to employ cunning and wit in her quest to be respected as more than simple chattel; it’s in the shy, sheltered girl with the sweet smile and tender heart who rebels against convention to offer the first glimpse of kindness and love to the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks; it’s in the contemporary career woman who juggles heart and head as she fights her way to the top because she believes the feminist promise that she can have it all, and it’s in the deserted single mother who once got knocked down by love, but who takes the chance to dust herself off and get back up to try again.
With such a diverse mix of characters and themes, we lucky romance readers are thoroughly spoilt for choice, and we’ve long counted upon the strength these heroines display to add compelling layers of emotion and drama to the best love stories. There can’t be many things quite as effective for increasing the stakes, ramping up the tension, testing the nature of the hero or measuring the depth of true feelings than a heroine’s determination to fight for her place rather than be kept meekly in it. Certainly there’s nothing nearly as much fun as watching her throw a spanner into the established workings of her world! And through the safety net of the pages, readers can explore what these ideas and actions might mean for us. I’m sure I can’t be alone in admitting that, more than once, I’ve found myself taking a leaf from a Strong Romance Heroine’s book and applying it to real life situations.
Which brings me back around to finish with another question, for those who continue to sneer and disdain romance heroines. What exactly is the problem here? What’s not to admire about these fictional women who provide us with excellent escapist entertainment, and whose stories can also have the power to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality to inspire readers to find their own inner strength and believe in their own Happy Ever After?
Kat Black was born in Sydney, Australia, where she misspent the greater part of her youth. A high school drop-out, an international backpacker, a bluffer, blagger and wearer of many hats, she now writes tales of modern love.
Married to an ocean rowing adventurer and mother of two grown daughters, Kat currently lives in the South of England. Keep up with her book news or get in touch via her website.