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Can A Romance Novel Feature A Feminist Protagonist?

Kelsey McKinney of The Atlantic wrote an essay a few years back detailing her dislike for female protagonists like Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre because she felt their stories conveyed the message that “literary girls don’t take road trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.”

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It’s proving to be no different with how people are reacting to the latest Bridget Jones installment. A beloved literary and film figure, Doree Shafrir of Buzzfeed wrote that “Bridget is still just focused on finding a man and settling down.” But here’s something to think about: does that matter?

Meeting Mr. Right


I’ll admit it: I like Elizabeth Bennet and Bridget Jones, I think they’re strong protagonists. They’re two women (albeit fictional) who don’t back down from standing up for what they believe in. They tell the arrogant Darcys in their lives (yep, both fall in love with Darcy-surnamed men) where they can proverbially “stick it,” and learn through trial and error what it means to make snap judgments about someone’s character. These fictional women have taught generations that it’s best to be yourself, just as you are.

Who cares if in the end *SPOILER ALERT* they end up with the men they promised themselves and their friends that they would never be with? Isn’t part of being a forward-thinking individual recognizing that our opinions can change and that NOTHING is that black and white? Hell, I would argue that that’s an unbelievably feminist thing to do: you recognize what’s wrong in the thinking, and do your best to straighten it out. It’s not about one idea being more right than the other, it’s about knowing that there are a lot of avenues to be explored and no two people traverse the exact same one. Some people would rather be single and do their own thing and others want to be part of a couple while also doing their own thing. You don’t lose your identity when you enter a relationship, I mean come on, really?

Who Can Say What’s Right?

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It makes more sense to me when readers question character motives in romance novels. I mean, isn’t the whole point of a romance novel to get two people together who’ll live happily ever after having great sex? See? What I’ve already said above is what’s wrong with that thinking. Just because I may not prescribe to the way the female protagonists in Nora Roberts’ books are behaving doesn’t mean she’s doing something wrong; it means she’s living her own truth.

Every day, all day we’re hit with which celeb or famous person should have dumped so-and-so and why what’s-his-name deserved better. Who cares? You can’t define someone’s relationship based on what you’ve worked out for yourself, just like you can’t say romance novels are a joke because their female leads aren’t feminists. Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel have sold hundreds of millions of books and there’s good reason for it: because they write identifiable stories. A good writer is able to get their readership behind the story, even if they might not agree with how the characters are handling the situation of the plot. But that’s life, isn’t it? We take what we get and we do with it what we can. By trial and error, we learn what works and what doesn’t, and that’s what these fictional characters go through, too. Part of being human is coming to grips with who you are and what you believe in and living your life to your specifications. It’s okay to want to get married and have children in the 21st century, it’s also okay to date and experiment. No one owns you, just like no one owns your favorite characters.

Who cares what the world thinks: do you?

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