Blogging From April A to Z: Intersectional Feminism in Romance Series!

Lately it seems like we’re all talking about feminism, diversity, and representation in fiction (and games, and movies, and so on) a lot more than we used to. This is marvelous! Even when we’re fighting about those things, and how to do them best, and how not to do them. But there is so much ground to cover. That fact combined with my own ever-increasing pile of TBR romances by authors of color, featuring POC heroes/heroines, disabled characters, trans characters, non-Western settings, etc. has spurred me on to something overly ambitious and time-consuming and more than a little foolhardy.

So I hereby welcome you to the April A to Z Challenge: Intersectional Feminism in Romance edition! Every day in April, Sundays excepted, I will post about an author or a book that features something other than the straight white wealthy cis able-bodied mold romance is so wedded to (see what I did there?). These will not be reviews in the usual sense, though I will usually mention whether or not I find a book compelling as a romance. Instead, these posts will be literary or structural analyses with a feminist lens, using as much privilege-checking as I know how to bring. Many of the books are no longer new, so if you can think of more recent releases that grapple with the same issues, please mention them. Comments on how I can do feminism better are both welcome and encouraged, while fedora-wearing trolls (should we trip over any) will be banished back to their Hemingways, Kerouacs, and Orsons Scott Card.

Some introductory remarks for the new kids: Intersectionality is an incredibly significant and clarifying term coined by critical race theorist and law professor Kimberle Crenshaw — this page from the Geek Feminism wiki is a useful starting point if you’re unfamiliar with the concept. Basically the idea is that different systems of oppressions (racism, sexism, and so on) cannot be understood as being separate and distinguishable, but often operate in concert with one another. A middle-class white queer woman’s experience of oppression and discrimination is not necessarily going to be analogous to a working-class black woman’s experience, since both will be systemically marginalized in different ways.

As a middle-class, able-bodied, straight cis white woman myself, I can’t help but approach this topic with a hefty invisible backpack full of privilege (link goes to a PDF). Let no one mistake my thoughts here for anything other than my own — I’m speaking to depictions and experiences of being disabled, or queer, or trans, etc., but I’m not speaking from such experience. If you’ll pardon my ego, there’s a risk of my centering myself at the expense of the many writers and authors who’ve done a lot of the work to help me get here — breaking down racist narratives, pointing out homophobia and transmisogyny, daring to exist visibly in a hostile world, etc. Naturally, I will use frequent links to outside sources. Each post will also end with suggestions for further reading, so that while my voice may be the loudest one here — insofar as this tiny one-author blog can be considered loud — mine will not be the only voice heard, nor automatically the most authoritative.

It’s possible I have bitten off more than I can chew.

The other criticism I anticipate is that as an author, I should refrain from critiquing other authors’ books. I have addressed this topic before, but recent conversations (at Dear Author and Vacuous Minx) have got me thinking that there’s more to criticism than just Did I like it or not? or even Is it feminist or not?

The question I most want to answer is this: What does this book do as a machine? I want something more about symbols/motifs/mechanics than the reviews at Dear Author and Smart Bitches, but something more accessible than the high-critical work being done by IASPR and academic journals. And nobody’s itching to write that kind of criticism except me. So I’m stepping up.

In this blog series there will be moments of snark as a release valve for frustration, and moments of rapturous admiration for what an author has accomplished — but mostly there will be arguments based on textual evidence for the various systems of character, plot, language, and story within the book, and how that machinery interacts with the genre’s readership and people’s daily lived experience.

The complete alphabet, insofar as it is currently known (links will be added day by day):

A – Malinda Lo, Ash

B – Beverly Jenkins, Destiny’s Embrace and Vivid

C – Zen Cho, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

D – Tessa Dare, Three Nights with a Scoundrel

E – Vicki Essex, In Her Corner

F – Frankly My Dear, Sandra Hill

G – Gold Mountain, Sharon Cullars

H – Harmony, Sienna Mynx

I – American Indians, Native Americans, First Nations, Indigenous Peoples, Etc.

J – Eloisa James, The Duke is Mine

K – Jacqueline Koyanagi, Ascension

L – Jeannie Lin, The Jade Temptress

M – Pamela Morsi, Simple Jess

N – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

O – Overwhelmed

P – Cathy Pegau, Rulebreaker

Q – Queer romance: Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Better Off Red

R – Robin Hood: What a Scoundrel Wants by Carrie Lofty

S – Suleikha Snyder, Bollywood and the Beast

T – Laura K. Curtis, Twisted

U – Katya Umbriel, heroine of The Pyramid Waltz by Barbara Ann Wright

V – Vorkosigans, eVentually

W – the Other Woman in romance

X – X Chromosomes: The Gender Binary (Part 1)

Y –  Y Chromosomes: The Gender Binary (Part 2)

Z – Zoe Archer, Rebel

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19 thoughts on “Blogging From April A to Z: Intersectional Feminism in Romance Series!

  1. This looks like fun (I followed a link from Love in the Margins).

    For O, what about The Story of O? The main character is pretty fluid in her sexual orientation (plus submissive / kinky) although she is white, cis and European.

    Or something by Octavia Butler, except I’m not sure if any of her sf/f has romance in it (I have one of her series in my TBR).

  2. Oh, oh, O for Octavia E. Butler? She’s not considered as writing romance, but her Wild Seed is definitely a romance, if an uncomfortable one. It’s also a great book.

  3. I’m not a big fan of Story of O — but Octavia Butler, yes please! Someone on Twitter also suggested Line and Orbit, and I’m always interested in a good sci-fi romance.

  4. I do hope you do Wild Seed. I’m ‘not a romance reader,’ but after reading Pam Regis’ Natural History of the Romance Novel, I found myself reading Wild Seed for the first time and thinking back on Butler’s other novels I love and thought, well, I suppose I *am* a romance reader. Wild Seed and several of her other books deal explicitly with lovers (including menages, of a sort, of humans and an alien or vampire) overcoming revulsion, different worldviews, and old wounds, to become part of a couple/menage and a community. Of course, they’re complicated. Wild Seed’s hero is ruthless, controlling, and homicidal. In Fledgling, the heroine looks like an underaged girl(!) (but, of course, is actually a vampire. Because that solves *that* problem. Right). It’s rare love in Butler doesn’t come with some ‘squick.’

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