Protective Heroes & The Second Shift

FeministinsideHeartHey y’all! I just love this blog called ROMANCE NOVELS FOR FEMINISTS.  Have you ever checked it out? I love intelligent writing, and people who don’t take for granted that Romance is just shallow fluff of no value.  Jackie C. Horne raises some really interesting (sometimes problematic) discussions of great romance novels in relationship to feminism.

So this was her latest post: THE PROTECTIVE HERO OR WHAT ARE ROMANCE READERS REALLY SO AFRAID OF? 

And I’m responding to it below.  First she talks about women ceding control in romance novels–especially BDSM romance novels.  Is this a metaphoric cry/protest against inequalities on the home front when so many women come home from their day job to a second shift of domestic work? Then she wonders why women are so gaga for the protective hero when (I’m assuming here) we live in such a safe, affluent country where most women in suburbia are usually not needing a body guard.

While I don’t necessarily AGREE with Jackie–

(Who’s safe? I think it really depends on your socio-economic class and neighborhood–but as someone who calls the police on a Saturday night every time I’ve heard gunshots in my neighborhood, I think Jackie’s making some pretty big assumptions here.)

–I certainly respect the points that she’s making. Since I’ve thought a lot about these issues, I had something to say that highlights my own observations and experiences with women and with the value of romances.

Here’s my response to Jackie’s blog post:

Regarding the second shift — I don’t think it’s a form of protest on the part of women to cede control, I think women who respond to this trope are overwhelmed by all the responsibility and want a small break from it, at an economic price point they can easily afford.

That said — as you put it: why aren’t they rebelling then and demanding social justice and more equality? On the home front I think the problem is one of power: of women liking the power so much.  They like being the ultimate one their child goes to automatically–that’s power. The buck stops at Mommy. Friends talk to me about bedtime and say “It’s like I’m the director of the bedtime play.” and they enjoy that feeling of directing the family activities. “You’re not going to dress her like that, are you?” they say to their husbands, who has to turn around and go change the child–Although this undermines his feelings of competence and engagement as he fathers, or at least undermines his feelings of authority in the family–women get a power rush from that too.

I see their ceding power with romances exactly the same as powerful white men in authority cede power to a dominatrix for a lunchtime hour to set aside the burden of responsibility for a while.  Only romances are a lot cheaper.  That’s not to say ultimately women wouldn’t be better off with more domestic equality–it’s just to say here’s an addictive component that gives them something for staying in this cycle.

And finally, I don’t morally judge these behaviors — I just note them as part of the machinery we’ve built in our society.  I think of romances as little happiness machines, providing a sense of fulfillment, entertainment, and easy emotional catharsis to the masses.  Plato would surely disapprove, but having seen too many emergency waiting rooms in my teens, I felt like one woman pulled me through — Georgette Heyer.  So I can’t easily dismiss the power of good romances can do, given how much sh** the fates can deal out to women in life, –and in ways that have nothing to do with female equality.

Regarding protectiveness:  I’m fascinated by this.  Have you read Zero Empathy by Simon Baron Cohen (cousin of the comedian Sasha Baron Cohen?) He talks about the Warrior Gene that they’ve found in studies — a gene that men have which allows them to feel empathy for a small circle of people and zero empathy for “the other” i.e. enemies.  These men make exceptional soldiers who can kill people without feeling trauma, but can also come home and be a husband, raise their children with tenderness and empathy, etc.

I wonder if there is a corresponding gene in women that seeks this Warrior Guy out? (Just wildly speculating here)  I mean, evolutionarily speaking, he’d be perfect, right? Providing protection from enemies, but safe with the children.  And I wonder if we’re tapping into that evolutionary thing when we get all hot n bothered by the protective hero.

The other response I have to your post is that while so many women in America aren’t facing abduction and forced incarceration (though which women are we talking about? There are problems with sex trafficking in America just like there are across the world–but these women aren’t in affluent and suburban areas perhaps) for the majority of women in America there is a predominant culture of rape to deal with.  What is it? 1 out of 4 women have faced some kind of situation that left them traumatized afterwards?  Certainly that’s a lot of women in our culture, and I can see why a protective male hero would appeal to them.  Maybe when our rape culture changes that trope will fall out of favor.

Okay, it’s back to work for me.  (No rest for the wicked.)

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