Romance has a problem with men.
Make no mistake, this is a feminist issue and, like questions of diversity in age, race and sexual orientation, it needs to be addressed before romance can fully move forward as the progressive, open-minded genre it is.
We’ve made great strides over the years combatting the female body issue. For instance the BBW, or Big Beautiful Women subgenre, is one example of how romance is attempting to reconcile the reality of hey, people comes in all shapes and sizes with the escapism of a genre built largely upon physical appearance. We are getting better, but combatting centuries of social pressure to look, dress and act a certain way will not be successful overnight, and we must continue to highlight all types of women in our novels.
But that’s not what I want to discuss here. It’s no secret that representation of women’s bodies has a long way to go. We know that and, frankly, we’re trying.
The same can’t really be said for men.
Okay, I know. Women have been facing over-sexualization and objectification for centuries, no, millennia, why is it an issue when one media turns it back on its head and says, ‘we want highlanders with ripped bodies and massive cocks and we won’t settle for anything less’?
That isn’t the problem. Women should be raising their standards, and I think romance goes a far way to telling readers that they should have no qualms against asking for what they want and reaching for what they deserve. That’s great.
The problem arises when we do exactly what has been done to women for so, so long and we create an environment where The Perfect Man doesn’t actually exist.
Okay, there is one fundamental difference between the history of oversexualizing men and oversexualizing women that I must point out. Men are allowed to have other traits. They are allowed to have careers and desires and goals and personality quirks. They are allowed to be people first and foremost, in a way women have been begging to be recognized for as long as there have been identifiable sexes. I appreciate and acknowledge that truth, before moving onto the argument at hand.
It is a feminist issue to portray all men as ripped, tall and well-endowed, and we must see it as one.
Getting back to the roots of feminism– equality between the sexes– I hope we can look at the role of men in romance and say that we want equality on the high road and not the low road. I hope we can say that we’d rather build women up, than tear men down. There are many issues within the feminist sphere that are about protecting and advocating for men, and body issue needs to be one of them.
Sure, romance is escapist fiction. And sure, the percentage of heroines embracing the diverse body type is much, much smaller than those who fall into the category of ‘mainstream beauty’, but until we recognize that we are doing men, the men in our everyday lives, a disservice, we cannot move forward as a fundamentally feminist genre.
Listen, I don’t clear the five foot three mark. I dated a guy in high school who was a solid foot taller than me, and let’s be honest, 6’3” is a pretty common height for romance heroes, and I literally had to stand on a chair or curb or bench to kiss him. I don’t need my hero to be 6’3”. My 5’8” boyfriend is the perfect size for me to kiss and I love that.
Because men come in different shapes and sizes, just as women do. I have literally seen one reference in any of the romance novels I read to a slight beer belly, and that was in a gay romance novel, where acknowledging the basic human elements of the male body is a lot more difficult to gloss over.
I know I do it. Of course I do, we all do. We like our hunka hunka detectives or pirates or highlanders, and that’s half the fun of reading the genre. But romance has, through its whole history, played a fundamental role in pushing forth feminism and changing the standard for what women deserve in all factions of our lives. But, until we recognize that feminism requires grappling with male body issues, as much as female, we won’t achieve our true potential as a genre.
I’m not advocating for getting rid of abs. I love abs and biceps and shoulders and backs. All I’m saying is, we must recognize that perpetually idealizing male bodies is fundamentally destructive, and that, we as a genre, are better than that. ♥