“Thoughtful Ramblings” is a feature where we discuss bookish subjects. These posts are just our own thoughts about certain topics that may get us hot under the collar and we need a good rant or just things we want to share with fellow bloggers and readers.

Are Romances Sexist Towards Men?

A few months ago now, I read an interesting blog post on romances. The crux of the article was that romance books gave women unrealistic expectations of men both in terms of looks and the way they behave.

The main points raised were:

  • The book covers ‘objectify men as sex objects’
  • The novels promote dissatisfaction in real relationships

I would like to clearly state that I’m not here to disparage this blog post in the slightest, in fact I found it really interesting. It made me think. How do I think of the heroes I read about in romance novels? You can read it for yourself here: ‘Sexism & Paranormal Romance’

Firstly, you all know as I’ve ranted, *ahem* discussed, my views on the half naked men covers. As far as I’m concerned they can die a silent death and never return. I’m just not a fan, most of the time they make me cringe. But I know plenty of women who do. Who sizzle at the site of all those six packs. But are they any worse than say the latest men’s aftershave billboard or a women’s lingerie advert? I really don’t think so.

Then, what about how the men behave in the books? Quite frankly some of the real ‘alpha’ heroes, while they might be sexy in a book, when they’re rescuing the heroine from certain death, fighting evil villains and hell bent on protecting the heroine at all costs. But, I think if I were to live them in I might want to gag them and lock them in the cupboard under the stairs.

It’s always romantic to think of the love of your life willing to put their life before yours and I would like to think if it ever came to it my hubby would, but day to day I’d just be happy if he’d put up the towel rail in the bathroom I’ve been asking him to do for months. I know my love of romances doesn’t give me any unrealistic expectations.

Do they objectify men? It’s very rare to come across an ugly hero in a romance, or for the fact an urban fantasy novel. With perhaps the exception of Kane’s Downside Ghost series. They are all gloriously handsome. I know all of us BCC ladies have our favourites Eric Northman, Barrons and Bones spring to mind *quick moment to fan myself*, so is there some objectification going on there? Probably, if I’m honest I guess there is a bit. I like my hunky heroes. Do I think all men look like Greek Gods? Of course not. But it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy picturing them like that in my mind’s eye.

Aren’t books after all about escapism? I like to read paranormal books because I want my imagination taken to new worlds, where the impossible is possible, or where the movie star really does fall in love with the dowdy girl next door. Am I really hurting anyone by reading them? They are no different in mind my to that two week holiday in the sun, fabulous while you’re there, but you know it’s not real life. The bump back to reality will undoubtedly follow. Books are about entertainment. Simply put, the heroes in my romance books are fiction, I know they’re fiction and I’m happy for them to stay that way.

The most important point is are we demeaning men in some way by portraying them this way? I genuinely don’t think so. The heroes in the books are exactly that… Heroes. They are intelligent, brave, determined, loved and respected. They are not shown as airheads draped across a shiny new car. And that in my mind is the real distinction.

We all know the slogan ‘sex sells’ and romance fans know this more than most. In terms of the covers, ok there is a small amount of male objectification going on. But not in a way I believe that demeans men. I certainly don’t think it gives me any unrealistic expectations in my life, I know it’s fiction and that’s why I read it. I’m not into gritty, realistic dramas, I want werewolves, vampires and delicious heroes. Just for a few hours a week.

Tagged with

Laura

A self-confessed bookworm who's favourite genres are urban fantasy, horror and a good love story with a sexy supernatural beastie. Also has a bit of a handbag fetish… actually, let's not mention the handbags; they seem to be breeding!

10 Comments


Erica Hayes May 29, 2012 at 10:23 am

For me, you’ve described the difference perfectly. I don’t think romance novels on the whole are sexist towards men, or women.

For instance, a lingerie ad — the ‘airhead draped across a shiny new car’ that you describe — could be thought of as sexist. All the woman is there for is to look sexy. Or a men’s underwear ad, for that matter. But heroes in romance novels have to DO something. They have to be heroic. Looking sexy isn’t enough.

The covers? Well, yeah, maybe that’s a bit more of an objectification issue. I’m not much of a fan of naked people on covers — doesn’t do anything for me — but a lot of readers, if not most readers, seem to enjoy them. I guess it adds to the ‘fantasy’ aspect of reading romances. And maybe I’m biased because I’m a woman, but I don’t find a man-titty cover as demeaning to men as the common depictions in media of females as sex objects are to women. Maybe it’s because I’m projecting those heroic qualities onto the guy on the cover, so I see him as the hero character I’m hoping to find in the book, rather than just a pretty thing?

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Laura May 29, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Yes I totally agree they are heroes and I would actually prefer an ugly hero than a handsome wet blanket ;-)

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Ines May 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm

When I was younger, I had some romantic relationship notions about relationships based on romance (I mostly read historical romance). And the way sex is supposed to be like (I believe that one is more questionable than gorgeous male heroes).
Nowadays, I know it’s not real and I don’t really view it as such, I just enjoy the banter between the main characters and the steamy sex scenes, and generally don’t even register the covers as I have a few favourite authors whose novels I buy and the cover doesn’t matter in that case.

Btw, I thought Eric Northman must be hot but it wasn’t until the series on HBO that I thought he REALLY WAS HOT. ;)

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Laura May 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Oh I’ve always liked Eric, but Alexsander Skargard definitely helps ;)

I guess I can see the illusion that how romance could be if you were young, sometimes that romances are such a beautiful whirlwind it is nice to believe that life can be like that -especially in historicals as the romances tend to be more rosy. But that it why I enjoy the escapism of them so much.

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Gemma May 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm

You hit it on the head there, Laura. Most of us just see these books as a way of getting away from my humdrum life.

If any of these uber alpha males came up to me in real life, I know I would kick them to the kerb, but in boks you are able to let yourself go a bit.

And as you know, I do kind of like the rippling six pack covers, but it won’t be the be all end all for me to pick the book up. I have to read the back of the book first to see if its worth my while.

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Laura May 29, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Exactly the storyline has to be good otherwise I won’t read them know matter how hot the hero. Substance over style. Totally agree most of the alphas would be so kicked to the curb lol!

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Isalys May 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Great post, Laura! I completely agree. I also read for escapism which is why my favorite books are paranormals, historicals and dystopian. I don’t care to read about a housewife who bitches about driving the kids to school or the husband who won’t put the toilet seat down, lol. I *want* to read about the fantasy and that includes fantasy men!

I don’t think romance heroes or their covers objectify men any more than the latest Abercrombie + Fitch catalog. To imply otherwise is simply ignorant! The key is in knowing where the fantasy ends and real life begins. I happen to love the alpha hero but I know that, in real life, an alpha man and I would simply NOT work (I’m pretty alpha myself so we’d probably end up killing each other, lol).

While I can understand the point made by the writer of the other post because I’m sure there are women who have used these books to create unrealistic standards, there is just no need to read into these books so much. In the end, they’re just fun :)

♥Isalys / Book Soulmates

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Laura May 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm

You are so right Isalys they are just escapism and fun and that is why I love them :)
I would totally kill an alpha husband, honestly we wouldn’t last five minutes! He’s be like do this and I’d be like err no I’m doing it my way. ;-D

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Alexa May 30, 2012 at 5:10 am

Lol this is a great post! I believe that these books sometimes make us wish our men were like the guys in the books but when you get right down to it it would be annoying to have a perfect guy. Who are you going to fight with if he is your hero every second of every day.

I still believe women are far more objectified in the world than men are.

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Soon to be cover model October 14, 2012 at 8:04 pm

As a guy who’s going to be a cover model on a romance novel in some time, I think I agree. I had to rethink my values before deciding to be a cover model for a book written by a friend of mine, she’s just finished one of her first novels in my country. Since this is her first novel, she couldn’t use a lot of money to hire a professional model, so she turned to me and asked whether I was up for it. I had to think about it at first, and thought about objectification of women versus men, and questioned myself whether it was right to contribute to objectification of men and whether men face the same problems as women do.

Eventually I said yes, and I came to my own concussion that women are usually objectified more than men, and face worse problems than men. I think the social stigma is worse for female models, at least in some parts of the society, and the body ideals carried forward by many of the female models are very unnatural, unrealistic and unhealthy. That’s not to say that these ideals aren’t hard for men to attain, I’m working out and dieting a lot to attain a fit and lean body, but at least that’s more healthy than being unnaturally thin as a woman. By nature, women are supposed to have more fat than men, so pressuring women into those ideals is worse. Also women face more pressure to get silicone implants, which is not the case for men.

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