I’m a die hard romantic and have always been. If I think back to when I first started choosing my own books in the bookstore, I gravitated towards bubblegum reading. I loved sweet valley high; so much drama, so much romance. In my teenage years, I was a bit of a loner, so it wasn’t unusual to find me with my nose in a book. It got to the point where I moved to the advanced reading section reserved for seniors after 1 year of high school, and would typically go through a novel a day. I mostly lived in a fictional world, and it was nice.
My reading habits all but continued undisturbed into my adulthood. And then one day, I just got fed up. It was hardly surprising to me because my life had evolved, so it would stand to reason that my reading would too. What was unusual was the suddenness of the evolution. Literally, I was reading something and immediately got annoyed at the female protagonist. I started asking myself questions about her strength of character; why was she so weak, so needy, so dependent? Why did she need to be rescued?
The formula for romance novels is more or less the same. Girl meets boy, falls in love, is emotionally abused and broken down (all disguised as fighting for love or just plain miscommunication), lovers reunite, a few sweet nothings uttered, then happily ever after. I have over 300 Mills and Boons (or rather had), and countless other romantic novels, and have read each of these more than once. But by-God, what the hell is up with that formula? It got to the point where I was desperate to read something with a female protagonist who had more will-power than a leaf of wilted lettuce. Or at the very least, one who started and finished the story strong. In general, there is a lot of misleading stuff, she starts off as a boss bitch, then the minute she meets this guy all her power just evaporates. Poof, and she’s a hot mess begging to be reassembled by this man?!? Nowhere in this book does she actually remember that she was whole and fully capable before she met him. There was the one gem I loved reading in high school about a southern belle of great beauty who was kidnapped, raped (read seduced), kidnapped from her initial kidnapper and raped again (also read seduced), then was gratefully rekidnapped by her first kidnapper – then they fell in love and lived happily ever after. I’ll let that sink in…
That novel was a mess but as a young and impressionable girl, I used to lap this up! I would curl up under my blankets all afternoon during the week, and all day during weekends consuming similar reading material. It’s no wonder my past relationships have been so messed up. If my model of romance was the epitome of unrequited love or being ignored, hurt, browbeaten into submission, abandoned, falsely accused, lied to/about or undermined, then it’s no wonder I couldn’t see the signs of catastrophic relationships early on. I mean, think about it. If all you consume is garbage, then you wouldn’t know if you were being led into a dumpster because being surrounded by the stench of rot is an everyday standard of normal. The day I got fed up with the weak-ass females I was subconsciously programming my mind and modelling my relationship behaviour with, I decided to start throwing out each book the minute something seemed off kilter with the female protagonist. Nothing was different about the books, it was me who had changed. Or rather, the lens from which I was reading with had changed due to my own life experiences. As I grew into my own, I started questioning the actions of the women I was reading about. No longer did I find the journey thrilling. In fact, I was rather annoyed that someone could be a spectator in their own lives to the extent that a “billionaire” or “tycoon” or “sheikh” could literally hold you ‘captive’. I mean, really? I had had enough. It left me with very little to read, but I could no longer stand consuming literature that did not build, encourage or even just echo real life in the slightest.
Honestly though and underneath all of the annoyance, the main reason I had to throw out all my books is future-focussed. Bunny is learning to read, and whilst she may be a few years away from picking up my books with any kind of interest, time flies. If I postpone it, in the blink of an eye, she will be curled up on the couch reading one of the books off the shelf. It’s riveting reading material but because the romance novel model is so messed up, I cannot imagine that influencing Bunny’s worldview in that manner. I started reading at a very young age, and would read anything I could get my hands on. I do not want her to get her hands on this vitriol. I want her to read Jane Austin and Maya Angelou. I want her to read autobiographies of women who are pace setters and warriors in their own rights. I want her to read Mario Puzo and John Grisham. I want her to write her own story of struggle and victory without the subtle influence of written words that normalise abuse, even in the most subtle of forms. Left to her own devices, if she decides to consume romantic literature then she needs to buy it herself. That will not be my legacy.
What legacy do you want to leave for your children, and how are you going about making it a reality? Let me know in the comments section.