The Romantic Hero
What do women want?
Ahhhh, the age old question.
For the record, I have no idea.
But I do know that in 2010, romance novels accounted for 13.4% of mass market book sales (source: www.rwa.org). $1.358 billion was spent on romance novels in that year. Neither classic literature nor science fiction nor mystery nor religion earned a billion dollars in sales. And 91% of the readership of romance novels is female. Think we can learn a thing or two about women from romance novels?
How many of you guys heard of a book called “Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women”? If you haven’t checked it out yet–HIGHLY recommended. It’s all these romance writers talking about what it is about romance novels that appeals to women so much. It can help us learn about women and what they want.
I read this one essay called “The Androgynous Reader” by Laura Kinsale and it gave me a mini epiphany into why women love romance novels. Check this out…
Women seem to read romances the way we read centerfolds. In this essay, Kinsale claimed female readers identified less with the heroine. What they really liked about the novels is the hero. She uses this quote from a female reader (among others) to make her case: “If [the hero] isn’t in in the first chapter or two, I’ll put the book down. It’s just boring.”
She says women enjoy that sexual admiration. The way she puts it: “it’s a simple, erotic, and free-hearted joy in…desirable maleness.” Just like we to admire the tits and ass of a centerfold, women like to admire the desirable masculinity of the hero.
Case in point, the Twilight series. And now Fifty Shades of Grey. How many women read the Twilight book because they wanna be just like Bella (she’s the “heroine” of Twilight)? I’ve even heard girls say they like the Twilight movies in spite of Kristen Stewart. It’s not Bella women flock to Twilight for. It’s to experience that relationship with a man like Edward (vampire guy) or Jacob (werewolf guy).
But notice the difference between a centerfold and a romance novel. We LOOK at a picture of a naked chick. There ain’t no guys in the picture. Heeeeeell, no. In fact, better if it’s two chicks are going down on each other or something.
In romance novels, though, women EXPERIENCE being in a relationship with an ideal man. It’s sex with love, with emotions, a story-line, struggle… it’s like this whole internal experience.
The centerfold? It looks nice. No love necessary. In fact, it’s more an external experience.
This was the other epiphany I had. It’s incredible how central love is to romance novels, including Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve been watching the Twilight series with my girl, fascinated, learning what women want. Watching the movies made me realize how incredibly important LOVE is to women. Women want to be loved voraciously by a man, and she wants to love him voraciously in return.
Now who is this ideal man of hers?
Yes, good-looking, but there’s way more to it.
He has a painful past, he has suffered, he’s wounded. As a result, he lives outside the structure of civilization, doesn’t give a damn, a melancholy rebel. He rejects the standard guidelines of society, the established norms and behaviors, the restraints of social conventions. It’s as if he represents the force of physical nature, amoral, ruthless with a sense of power, and leadership. He’s got an edge, depth. No bullshit here.
Women want him, but he’s like whatever.
But he meets the heroine of the romance… there’s something different about her. He sees beyond her beauty, beyond her physical surface, and falls in love, in spite of himself, with her inner qualities that make her different than other girls. He pursues the heroine relentlessly like a beast, an animal, a panther stalking his prey. He’s like a sexual threat. She finds him dangerous and exciting.
He’s strong, PROTECTIVE, masculine. Yet gentle, compassionate, feeling, and tender at the same time. He’s got character, integrity. Noble, sophisticated, gentlemanly. Perhaps he can even play an instrument. Sensitive, never wimpy.
She falls desperately in love with him. And out of all the women in the world, she can teach him how to be happy again.
It’s been said the great poet Lord Byron created the model for the romantic hero in his long poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
Apparently his hero was so well received, it was copied over and over again from Emily Bonte to romance novels today. The term “Byronic hero” even entered the language of literature. Models we can follow in this tradition (without having to read romance novels) is Count of Monte Cristo. Or even Batman (not as much Superman).
Stay strong. Don’t care what others think of you. Serving a higher purpose than self is more important. In other words, stay masculine. Yet be kind and empathetic, too. Appreciate a woman not for her physical beauty, but her inner qualities that make her unique. And always take the sexual lead… in fact, be a sexual threat. You don’t have to marry her. We can be that mysterious stranger passing through town that sweeps her out of this ordinary world, into a more extraordinary world. Women want love. Let’s give her love, while always still staying the man.