From Auralee Wallace…
When my first daughter was born, I was firmly resolved to keep the princess industry out of my house and out of her head. After all, I was an educated woman, who had taken her fair share of Women’s Studies courses, and I didn’t want my daughter to grow up believing a man would solve all of her problems. Then it happened. We were on a family vacation, in a rented cottage, in the middle of nowhere, and it was raining. The cottage didn’t have cable, but it did have a TV/VCR and a worn copy of Cinderella. I caved pretty quickly – one can only sing The Wheels on the Bus so many times before one goes nuts. A horrifying thing happened next.
My daughter fell in love.
Up until this point, my girl only knew of Dora (a show which I deemed appropriate viewing despite its messaging that it’s acceptable for young children to explore the jungles of Mexico with nothing more than a map, a backpack, and a monkey companion), so never before had she seen skirts skimmer so radiantly, young girls sing so sweetly, or slippers sparkle so brightly. In the moment where Cinderella is transformed by magic into a ball-ready princess, I watched my entranced daughter lean towards the screen while gripping her own skirt with her still chubby hands, and I knew she was a goner.
Well, what was a socially responsible, feminist mom to do? Did I lunge for the remote to turn off the offensive messaging? Did I pounce on my daughter to shield her eyes? Did I sigh heavily to let her and the universe know how disappointed I was that Disney had claimed yet another little girl’s soul? I did not…but part of me was tempted until I realized that shaming a four year old probably wasn’t appropriate under any circumstances. What I did instead was allow myself to smile at the sparkle in my daughter’s eyes. I may have even sung a little Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.
Since that time I have had to question a lot of my own beliefs about what is and isn’t feminist-friendly. For example, let’s take a deeper look at Cinderella. Yes, there is a questionable message about marriage being the Happily Ever After we all seek, but let’s look deeper still. Perrault wrote Cinderella in 1697 (although I am told there are versions of Cinderella-type tales over 5000 years old). Given the time period and its gender expectations and realities, one could easily propose that the main message of the tale is simply one of hope. Cinderella is able to escape a miserable life using the power structures available to her, and she is able to do it without sacrificing her integrity – overnight, no less. Can you spot the appeal? I sure can.
Now, I am not saying that every little girl should be encouraged to aspire to be a pampered princess, but I am saying let’s look deeper at what it is women love about Romance and why. Take 50 Shades of Grey, for example. I didn’t finish it. Granted I was breastfeeding my third child at the time, and the idea of one more person touching me wasn’t exactly alluring.
I was fascinated, however, by all of the feminist discourse surrounding it, ranging from the supportive to the critical to downright shaming/shameful. I won’t delve too deeply into this topic, but I will say that there was one particular moment, before I did quit, when Mr. Grey was ordering Anastasia lunch (fish and white wine, I think) when I found I suddenly had a mini fantasy playing out in my mind. It went a little like this:
Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if Mr. Grey would plan my seven year old’s birthday party? I’ve been up all night with the baby. There’s laundry to be done. I’ve not finished my manuscript. My husband’s at work. And I think the cat might be sick. Please Mr. Grey come make all the decisions. Every last one of them. Heck, execute them too. And, while you’re at it, order me to eat something. I like it when you do that…sometimes. At that moment, I’m not going to lie, I kind of got what all the fuss was about.
I would also like to point out that I don’t believe men undergo the same level of scrutiny when it comes to liking what they like. My husband, for example, practices Jujitsu at the local rec centre. For an hour a week, I think he enjoys feeling like a warrior (an arguably ultra-masculine role). I can guarantee you, no one has ever shamed him by saying, “You can’t handle this particular warrior fantasy, boy. It might turn you into a psychopath. Think of your son.” People assume he is a THINKING man, who can enjoy the practice of the fantasy while still very much living in the real world. (My husband did counter that men are often shamed for their enjoyment of looking at naked women, but I will have to save that topic for another time.)
My debut novel, SIDEKICK, (a novel that should have never seen the light of day as I was told Chick Lit is dead and female superheroes don’t sell) is a Cinderella story. My main character just so happens to want to be a superhero instead of a princess – a quest that she tackles in a very Lucille Ball type of way. (I feel compelled to mention here that Lucille Ball has been called a poor excuse for a feminist because of the way she deferred to her husband on the show. Forget that she was the first woman to create a show that focused on women, women who wanted more than society deemed appropriate, and dared to depict a real live pregnant woman on the little screen (something many felt would be the downfall of civilization) without sacrificing her domination of the ratings. She was also the first woman to run a major television studio…but I digress.)
I wrote this story because while on the surface it is a silly, fluffy comedy, at a deeper level it depicts themes of hope, strength, resiliency, and, yes, dare I say it, even a little love.
I guess what I am, and many others are, calling for is deeper analysis of the romance genre (mainly written for women, by women). It is so easy, for men and women to brush off these stories as silly at best and dangerous at worst, but that is lazy thinking if you ask me. Lucille Ball once said, “I’m not funny. What I am is brave.” I think a similar thing can be said of romance writers. It takes a great deal of bravery to write about what you love and share it with the world. It is certainly a damned shame when people dismiss it out of hand because it’s about “girl stuff.”
Auralee Wallace has played many roles in her life, including college professor, balloon seller, and collections agent. She is now living her dream of writing humorous women’s fiction. When this semi-natural blonde mother of three children (and psychiatric nurse to two rescue cats) isn’t writing or playing soccer, she can be found watching soap operas with lurid fascination and warring with a family of peregrine falcons for the rights to her backyard. Her debut novel, Sidekick, is out now.