A few days ago I mentioned an interesting blog post from a female psychologist who studies romance novels. In that article, Maryanne Fischer, Ph.D., and associate professor at Saint Mary’s University, called romance novels “candy for women’s brains.”
The romance genre is so popular, she writes, because the formulaic plot represents an appealing, but often unattainable, set of circumstances. The romance book allows a woman to indulge and treat herself. That action of indulgence and relaxation is similar to how a woman might feel while eating candy or an ice cream cone: happy, content, and just maybe, a wee bit guilty.
Think about it. In a romance, the heroine is seldom described in much detail. This way, the author limits the ways in which she can alienate readers. In fact, author usually strives to create a heroine that is similar to as many women as possible. She believes herself to be pretty average: Attractive, but not overly beautiful; intelligent, but not a genius; resourceful and independent, but still could use a little help from time-to-time. Pretty much describes the self-view of a lot of women I know.
The hero, on the other hand, is described in great detail. As readers, we get to learn everything about him. That way, the author hopes, we will get to know him a little more, perhaps lust after him a bit, and learn to relate to him, as well, despite the fact that he’s usually a jerk at the beginning of the book.
In fact, according to Fischer, the fact that the hero is a jerk is exactly what attracts women to the romance genre. Because he usually goes through a transformation, Fischer argues, women get the best of both worlds in the hero: They get the bad boy at the beginning, who is so desperately in love with the heroine that he is willing to change his ways, and in the end, becomes the settled, monogamous family man.
It’s appealing, Fischer acknowledges, because it doesn’t really happen that way in the real world. The change reflects a fantasy of women — something special, something that is not at all common. In her article, titled “How Much Do Romance Novels Reflect Women’s Desires?” Fischer writes:
What woman doesn't swoon at this (situation)? What woman can resist wanting a daring, confident, attractive man who also is so deeply in love with her that he can't even look at another woman? And he wants to marry her, on top of it all. She's having her cake and eating it too. She gets all the benefits without any of the costs. The cad won't expect hot, casual sex and then take off- he becomes the dad, who, given his history, isn't boring.
What do you think? Do you agree with her analysis, or think it’s a big ol’ crock?
In addition to her role at Saint Mary’s University, Fischer also acts as a consultant for Harlequin. She is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Chemistry of Love.