Another of my columns for Women and Words, but with more emphasis on erotica just for you.
Women in Historical Fiction
According to a survey on the Smart Bitches website, 81% of romance readers read historical romance. The rest of the results are interesting, as well. Yes, I noticed that erotic romance comes in at the bottom of the list, with only 45% going near it (or admitting to it, at least.)
The historical appeal fascinates me. I love historical fiction. I don’t know how the preferences of lesbian readers stack up against those of romance readers in general, but my general impression is that historical romance (or let’s just say historical fiction) isn’t heavily represented in lesfic as a whole. I do know of some but I’d be glad to hear your recommendations.
One difference, I think, between straight historical romance and the lesbian version, is that in ours, the women get to be the strong characters. No swooning in the arms of an alpha male. (Yes, I know there are some strong female characters in straight historicals, but I’m speaking in general terms here.)
This brings me to a subject I’ve long wanted to rant about. There seems to be a belief on the part of women who write m/m historical romance that there’s no point in writing about women in history because women never got to do anything adventurous. They were never strong. They weren’t worth writing about. I actually saw this stated by an author for whom I have great respect, and echoed with complete agreement in numerous comments from other female writers of m/m historical romance.
What! I’m not going to list famous women in history—we’re talking about fiction here, after all, although I do admit to writing short fiction that included Queen Elizabeth I addressing the troops before the battle with the Spanish Armada. But there have always been strong women, strong sometimes in the same ways as men, and often in much more complex and vital ways. In some sense the very fact that our patriarchal culture has at best ignored and at worst suppressed their history makes them even more interesting to write about.
What do you think? Should publishers be giving us more lesbian historical fiction?
Last year I wrote a guest column for the Oh Get a Grip blog . It was titled “Strong Women Ride You Harder”, on the subject of strong women in erotica, not specifically about historical fiction, but I do think it fits this discussion.
“Strong Women Ride You Harder”
I write about strong women. In pairs. Or trios, or more, although I have to admit that keeping track of too many same-gendered parts is a challenge when you only have one flavor of pronoun to tag them with.
I represent a certain viewpoint. I write lesbian erotica, and have edited six-going-on-seven anthologies full of that flavor of lip-smacking goodness. So, when considering the question of why strong women are good characters for erotica, my kneejerk response is, “Why the hell not? Doesn’t everybody get turned on by strong characters?” My second is, well, “Yum,” but I’ll try to resist getting distracted.
A case could be made that all strong female characters can be considered both dangerous and wicked, since they upset a patriarchal status quo that should be as outdated as Victorian fainting couches and tight corsets. Oh, wait. Those corsets have become the iconic uniforms for dominatrices, and are far from outdated. Victorian gentlemen, whose ideal wives were required to role-play as fragile flowers, subverted their own dominant paradigm by getting their rocks off being paddled by strong women. The erotic appeal of the transgressive is at least as strong now as it was then, but we may not have quite as many restrictions to transgress against these days, and not so much of the strict-governess-and-caning-at-school tradition, so we borrow the most fun and colorful bits from the past. As long as women get their fair chance to be on top, I’m fine with that.
Most of the characters in my books are fine with that, too. I try for variety, and always include some stories with BDSM/power exchange tropes, sometimes including classic dom-wear. But there’s more to the appeal of strong women than corporal punishment. In lesbian fiction the characters are upsetting the cultural norms just by being who they are, and that takes strength. When who they are means taking on roles that have traditionally been seen as hyper-masculine, they need to be hyper-strong, in body, mind, and strength of will. That’s sexy.
Cowboys, for instance. Without getting too personal, I happen to know that an anthology with a lesbian cowboy theme (“cowboy” is a job description, not a gender, and the women doing it don’t necessarily need to be called cowgirls) won a Lambda Literary Award last year over strong competition, so the writers must have been doing something right. Lesbian bikers and lesbian cops are more themes that draw on the appeal of strong women forging the lives they want without regard to gender expectations. The same could be said of women who are CEOs or astronauts or doctors or any of a long, long list of occupations once limited to men.
Strong, sexy women appear in a great deal of lesbian (and straight) erotica that isn’t so overtly themed, of course. On a tangential note, whatever you may think of Xena’s carefree approach to history and myth, that show cleared the way for later kick-ass heroines, from Buffy to Sarah Conner to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)”