Updated: Apr 17
Romantic comedies – formerly known as “chick-lit” – can sometimes be written off as not particularly progressive or feminist. Critics might claim that it’s not very feminist to write about characters who are often invested in falling in love and finding ‘the one’ in 2021 when women’s lives are about so much more than their relationship status.
I agree that finding a partner is not the be all and end all and there is so much more to life than finding a man. As a proudly single woman, even my lifestyle attests to this! And yet, I still believe there is something uniquely magical about falling in love, and it's a nice experience to write about and celebrate in my work.
I reject the notion that writing about romance isn’t feminist. But it can't be denied that some love stories, especially ones written decades ago, are often pretty regressive with women pining for a man and marriage being the end goal. When I’m writing, I try not to fall victim to outdated romance tropes and keep my novels modern, empowering and feminist.
Here are five ways I do that!
1. Making characters flawed
Women can be loveable and flawed.
It may be 2021, but women are placed under so much pressure on a daily basis in society. I see this in advertising and the media all the time and it winds me up so much! Women are expected to be super-mums, brilliant colleagues, the most supportive friends ever, health-conscious chefs for the family, unpaid and yet highly efficient cleaners, etc, etc. We’re supposed to always have everything together, constantly have a smile on our face, all while looking gorgeous, sexy and stylish. Meanwhile men get praised for the most basic of things and are often depicted as loveable idiots who basically need looking after. It’s 2021 but we still have SUCH a long way to go. This stuff is so pervasive that it can be easy to internalize it - I know I did for years - but I now see it and it annoys me a lot.
So how do I try to fight this in my rom coms? I show women who don’t have it all together. Women who are flawed. They may be are a bit rubbish at certain things and can get things wrong and behave a bit badly at times, just like everyone else, and yet they’re still loveable. They still have friends who support them, families who care and can still attract a partner. Because that's how it should be. Women should not have to be super-humanly perfect in order to be loveable. I want my characters to feel like real women, in the real world, and I want to show that they can fall in love and be accepted by their partners as they are, in all their imperfect glory. Unlike ads on TV, I don’t want my heroines to have to meet unrealistic standards in order to be accepted by their partner, or more importantly, by themselves.
2. Having women make the first move
Women should feel empowered, and I want to reflect this in my novels. It’s important to me that my heroines are ambitious and have their own goals, careers, and interests that they pro-actively pursue. So why should a woman who’s not afraid to grasp an exciting job opportunity or start a business wait for a guy to chase her? Why would my kick-ass heroine pine for a guy to ask for her number, or wait for him to kiss her, or sit back until he asks her to marry him?
Why can’t she make a move? If she wants to be with someone, what’s stopping her? A woman being in control of her destiny and chasing what she wants is inspiring and captivating and in no way takes anything away from a love story – if anything, it makes it far more exciting.
3. Giving heroines strong interests
This point kind of goes without saying, but naturally, it would be pretty regressive if a heroine’s self-worth or lifestyle revolved around a man.
It’s so inspiring to read about heroines with jobs they love and that inspire them, or passions and causes they care about. One of the most obvious ways I make my books feminist is to make my characters well-rounded, so that they have busy, interesting lives, and that love does not ‘complete’ them but simply enhances their already awesome life!
4. Avoiding romance altogether
It sounds a bit weird for a rom com to not contain rom, but why not? Romantic comedies are about so much more than just love. They’re about characters growing, learning, and having interesting experiences. The actual romance doesn’t have to be the focus or the end goal. It can be sprinkled in here and there, but falling in love doesn’t have to be the conclusion of a rom com.
I probably sound disingenuous here as a lot of my rom coms do end with my heroines falling in love, but this was actually beginning to annoy me, so by the time I wrote Flying Solo, which came out last year, I decided to write about a character who was more interested in finding herself than a relationship. And interestingly, my readers loved that! After all, our relationship with ourselves is the most important of all.
5. Being diverse in the women you write about
Being a feminist is also about lifting other women up and being invested in the struggles of women from different walks of life, whether that be disabled women, women from different income backgrounds, ethnic minorities, or trans women, etc. It can be hard to write about heroines too different from yourself without potentially causing offence through acts like cultural appropriation, but as authors, it’s important to include a diverse range of women in our books and celebrate them and show them in a sensitive light, thus lifting up the women around us through our books.
What do you think? Do you like reading rom coms with a feminist feel? Or do you write feminist rom coms?
To check out my books, click here.