Beyond Bodice-Rippers: How Romance Novels Came to Embrace Feminism
The genre is known for promoting traditional gender roles, but a new generation of writers is challenging these conventions.
In A Lady Awakened, the heroine uses the hero for sex (Bantam)
“Bodice-rippers,” the most famous term associated with the romance genre are, according to the book Beyond Heaving Bosoms: “”typically set in the past, and the hero is a great deal older, more brutal, and more rapetastic than the heroine.” The heroines were young, virginal women whose purity was of paramount importance to their worth. The rapist-turned-true-love hero was a standard character.
Bodice-rippers and their contemporary counterparts were popular during the 1970s, occupying the same cultural space as the feminist movement but seeming to represent its polar opposite. As feminists were fighting patriarchy, romance novels were propping it up. Despite a major shift in the genre in the late 1980s and early 1990s that saw the near-disappearance of rape and the emergence of much stronger, more modern heroines, the idea remains that feminists and romance readers exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. This is not the case.