I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The Glass Slipper is about the persistence of a familiar Anglo-American love story into the digital age. Comparing influential classics to their current counterparts, Susan Ostrov Weisser relates in highly amusing prose how these stories are shaped and defined by and for women, the main consumers of romantic texts. Following a trajectory that begins with Jane Austen and concludes with Internet dating sites, Weisser shows the many ways in which nineteenth-century views of women’s nature and the Victorian idea of romance have survived the feminist critique of the 1970s and continue in new and more ambiguous forms in today’s media, with profound implications for women.
The Victorians have a lot to answer for! The basic formula that they set in motion for the romance is still very much in use. The woman protagonist has to be beautiful, but not vain. She can be aware that she’s moderately attractive, but mustn’t put too much stock in it. She must also be stubborn (or spunky or full of vitality) because she’s going to need all her resources to win her man. And she better be a one-man woman—not too easily tipped into bed, as she needs to be sure that the man is truly interested in her, or she will be left alone and humiliated. There is no doubt that “alone” is a punishment and a sign of being “less than,” which makes me laugh, as it’s the only way I want to live my life.
Men in this genre are usually rich or at least comfortable financially, but billionaires abound these days. Then they should be hunky—broad shoulders, small waists, ripped abs—because why waste all that work on a regular guy, right? Plus, he should be powerful, both physically and in the world (Alpha male, anyone?). No wonder men don’t like to read the romance genre—who could possibly live up to that standard?
I can see why the author doesn’t really decide if romance is pro- or anti-feminist. I’m a feminist, but after decades of ignoring the romance genre, I find that I’m enjoying it again. I’ve never married and I don’t expect to. I don’t expect romance in my own life—my own relationship is a pretty pragmatic one. And yet I really do enjoy reading a good romance. I’ve read Ilona Andrews’ Burn for Me at least 3 times since January (and it really, really fits the Victorian pattern above) and I’m waiting on tenterhooks for the sequel White Hot. Does this make me a bad feminist? I don’t think so.
The author covers a lot of ground: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Disney princesses, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Harlequin romances, and internet dating sites, among other topics. Do we need to smash the Glass Slipper the way we need to break the Glass Ceiling? Or can we hang onto it for playing dress-up?