Thursday, June 30, 2011

I blame Cinderella.

I have a big problem as a romance writer. I actually love when the hero swoops in to rescue the heroine. Or just help her. Take over things for her when her life is all fucked up. I find this the very apex of romance, in kinky or mainstream stories.

Imagine my surprise when I learned this actually annoys most romance readers! Okay, I understand the whole deal that women don't like to be perceived as weak, that they shouldn't have to depend on a man for happiness or assistance when things get tough.

But if that's so, why are so many of our heroes alpha? Why are so many of them strong, tall, rich, and quite capable of solving any problem the heroine might encounter? If we enjoy these qualities in our heroes, what's so wrong with the hero using them to give the heroine a hand in her more frustrated or helpless moments?

Perhaps I fetishize helplessness when I shouldn't. It might interest readers to know that when I wrote Firebird, Prosper was originally painfully shy, insecure, self-doubting, and basically failing at life. In fact, her name, Prosper, was actually meant as an ironic nod to the fact that she wasn't prospering at all.

I didn't write her that way specifically so Jackson could save her. I wrote her that way because I feel that way sometimes--and sometimes I want someone to save me. Of course, I was told to change her as a condition of publication, to make her strong and able to function independently of Jackson's help. My editors were undoubtedly right to require the change...most of my readers probably would have disliked the weak Prosper. I wonder why I liked her so much?

I blame Cinderella. As a child I made my mother read the fairy tale to me at least three hundred times. There was something about her being lifted from abject misery and powerlessness to a wonderful life at the hands of the prince. Forget the fairy godmother. To me, she was just a bit player. It was the prince who really changed Cinderella's life. What a dream for her! What a new lease on life! Oh, and that ethereal silver gown! That prince was my first hero, and I suppose Cinderella and the prince somehow embedded themselves in my young brain as the apex of romance and the power of heroism.

I did actually write another book with a weak, needful heroine, because I wanted to have it for myself, to read myself. Ohhh, the hero rescues the shizz out of this girl, believe me! I won't ever publish it--I don't want the blowback. But I'll continue to enjoy feminine weakness and a male sweeping in to make it all better. Maybe that makes me a bad person. For sure it bars me from any self-respecting feminist circles. For a long time I've struggled with that, but I decided now that it's okay.

The funny thing is, none of my three daughters had any interest in Cinderella growing up, despite my pushy reminiscing desire to read it to them. My much-loved copy is gathering dust downstairs on my bookshelf, patently rejected by my strong and capable daughters.

Maybe that's for the best.


  1. I love Cinderella. I have snow globes, books, blankets, tote bags, a miniature castle decoration, key chains, pins, pencils, coffee mugs, and a beautiful Thomas Kincade painting of Cinderella and the Prince. It's my favorite fairy tale. I feel like her sometimes, bearing the burdens while everyone else does nothing. I don't look at it as he saved her. I always saw it as he gave her a choice, with the help of the fairy godmother. The shoe fit and she used it to walk away.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with the hero saving the heroine though. I'd rather him offer to help, sometimes even bully his way into helping her for her own good if there's no other way to make her see it's OKAY to lean on someone else. There's a lot of the 'we don't need a man to save us' attitude in romance and honestly, it's grating. I want the hero to help her. I want her to be insecure, doubting, uncertain, frayed around the edges. I want her to be strong and capable to. Most submissives, hell many women, are all of those and more. We stereotype the perfect woman and the perfect man, but we can only use them in certain ways that often lack authentication.

    I don't need a man to rescue me, but if one came along and offered me a choice of, offered himself to help or to fix the things that stress me, tax me, drag me down, I'd take his hand and step into the carriage.

    I love Cinderella. I always will. My daughter rejected her too, but that's fine. I still adore her and her fairy tale.

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  2. Lissa, I'd step in that carriage too! There's nothing wrong with accepting help when life has completely overwhelmed you. Unfortunately, Prince Charming is just a myth for most of us, so I love to read about him in books.

    My daughter (age 6) doesn't care about Cinderella either. Her favorite fairly tale book is an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty where Beauty punches the prince in the face for kissing her without permission. LOL. That's my girl.

    ~ Diana

  3. I definitely see the appeal and the fantasy of having someone appear in your life when you need it most. They would be calm, :D But it's also important to like the main character, the person needing rescuing, and its hard to like people who don't like themselves. What a balancing act.

    Btw Annabel I would SO read the story you mentioned, you should share it! Screw the blowback lol.

  4. Sorry Ms. Joseph, I'm the woman you are referring to in this blog. I can't abide by weak women who are helpless and insecure. The ones who throw up their hands and expect someone else to fix the problems they caused themselves. We could point to feminism, fighting for equal rights as a potential cause. Or we can point to the backlash at weak women as more and more women are in positions of power. We could also point out the white knight swooping in to save the damsel in distress as a bi-product from Cinderella...or you could just say it's the Disney effect.

    I'm raised half in the American Disney culture and half in the Asian Chinese realistic culture. After my parents read the Disney fairy tales with me when I was 5, they purchased the original Grimms Fairy tales for me. And they also switch to Chinese bedtime stories. Let's just put it this way. Grimm and Chinese bedtime stories end the same way. Somebody dies and it isn't always the "bad" person.

    I don't believe in HEA nor do I find it appealing. Sure, when I'm frazzled and I'm just sick to death of carrying the load, do I want someone to come in to save the day? HELL YES. After a couple of days of pitying myself and maybe drinking, I don't think that anymore. I pull up my big girl panties and suck it up.

    My mother raised me to accept consequences and be accountable for my actions. I was held responsible for my sisters behaviour or misbehaviour. So for me, it's ingrained to be the one that fixes everything. I'm Ms. Dalton's reluctant domme.

    This being said, would it be nice to read fantasies where the helpless damsel is picked up by a man and all her troubles are wiped away...I guess if I was in a suicidal mood and needed a pick me up. I can't relate to this type of female so for me, it doesn't work. I feel the female is TSTL. I'm constantly aggravated the female. I want to shake her and pimp slap her. (I just learned that phrase.)

    This is just me. It does NOT mean other women have the same feelings. I find that many of the women who like pure romance, they like those types of stories.

    This is not to say that a strong man coming to help out a woman would always be bad and readers would hate it. If a woman continuously strives even though she's unable to do it herself, I'm usually okay with this. My example ...the heroine in Call Me Irresistible by Susan Phillips. There was a white knight there who could have swept in. He did 1/2 way through the book. The heroine was a fuck up pretty much the entire book. Yet I LOVED HER. I wrote a length review on this book in GR under my handle BookAddict. The book earned 5 STAR from me even though I livid the entire time. Which leads me to alpha men.

    Now, why do I like an alpha? Well, because I need a man who can KEEP up with me. One who is NOT threatened by my ability to git 'er done. I need a man who is able to supplement my deficiencies just as I supplement his. I want a partner who can take control just as easily letting me take control. Did I mention I'm a switch? However, for bedroom and sexual activity, I want to read about a man taking control because that is the only time I can let my hair down metaphorically and literally. The one time I know I can let go and someone will catch me.

    FYI, in Hexed by Ilona Andrews - Dali is not what I consider super independent or strong. She has doubts, insecurities and she has some weaknesses. She doesn't come across as TSTL. And she still manages to help the man of her dreams and he will end up being her protector. I found this to be very romantic. Hope I didn't bore all of you to death.