Misha on Modern Romance

What modernism seeks to extinguish. (Photo by Louise Docker)

Over at Google Plus, Misha Burnett makes a rather telling observation about romances in fiction:

When did emotionally abusive relationships become the new normal in Science Fiction?  I keep running into storylines where the male lead “proves” his love for the female lead by continuing to pursue her after she has lied to him repeatedly and deliberately done things to drive him away. 

Is that what constitutes a Prince Charming these days, a high tolerance for psychological torment?  Maybe I’m just jaded, but the first time a potential partner plays some kind of head game to see if I am really devoted, I’m out the door.

I keep running into stories where I know that I am supposed to be wondering “will the good guy get the girl?” but instead I’m thinking, “why on Earth is he attracted to this psycho?”

After thinking on it some more, Misha comes to a conclusion:

Upon reflection, I think the process goes something like this:

Both men and women want a romantic storyline where the man proves himself worthy of the woman to win her.

However, modern writers feel that they can’t make the male lead braver or stronger or more clever than the female lead. The man can’t do anything truly heroic, because that might make her look weak in comparison.

So the only way left for the man to win the woman is through enduring the trials that she, herself, puts him through.

Now, to keep this from being just femdom porn, there has to be some big secret reason why she has to treat him like dirt, and also why she can’t tell him until the big reveal.

But that has been the romantic plot of the last four or five SF novels I’ve tried to read. Boy meets girl, girl uses boy for her own mysterious purposes, boy puts up with that shit indefinitely.

Misha’s observations dovetail nicely with my previous discussions of male/female interchangeability in speculative fiction. Fearing accusations of sexism, big media and film avoids showing feminine “girlfriend” characters without balancing her out with at least one butt-kicking babe. Smaller media, like novels, take the hint — and if they step too far out of line, they may be subjected to a Twitter mob.

On top of that, Google is taking it farther with software intended to scan films for female presence and speaking time, presumably to help directors ensure their films are suitably feminist. Such bean-counting is considered to be enlightened, but it will only add to the death of romance as skittish execs bow down to the tyranny of the numbers. It seems that artistry must take a back seat to ideology.

Let’s choose a different path — one that embraces the romantic instead of denigrating it.

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10 Responses to Misha on Modern Romance

  1. It makes you wonder if a lot of these writers have ever even BEEN in a relationship in their lives…

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      It is a question worth pondering. My guess is that it’s simply ideology.

    • Roffles Lowell says:

      Buddy of mine who reads feminist sites like Jezebel complained to me, about a year or so ago, about the worthlessness of their relationship advice columns. Reason given was that the same bloggers also blog about being on the autism spectrum.

      Mind you I never saw fit to fact check her claim, but it sure would connect a lot of dots….

  2. Orvan Taurus says:

    I do wonder how disappointed those using that silly algorithm would be upon feeding it a classic, like, say… Dr. Strangelove.

  3. L Jagi Lamplighter says:

    Spot on. It is also why vampires and werewolf romantic leads are so popular. Romance needs obstacles and taboos. Modern society doesn’t provide them. The moment the man is a monster, however, it is easy to a) make him really strong and b) put taboos back in (no werewolf can date a girl outside the pack, etc.)

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