Single/white/female, twenty-six years old, stunningly beautiful virgin, living in modern day New York City seeking sexually experienced bad boy with a heart of gold who will teach me the wonders of carnal love.
Why is it that we think this sounds ridiculous in a personal ad, yet we accept it so easily in many of the romance novels that we read? Are readers really so sexist that they can’t accept a heroine who is sexually experienced? Or is it the authors who are simply giving us what they think we want? I don’t know about you, but I am getting fed up with heroines being treated sexually inferior to the men. With this in mind, I thought it would be nice to talk about what qualities make for a good heroine, and who some of my personal favorites are.
Let me start with a classic romantic heroine. Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind started off as a feisty, spoiled girl, but the tragedies of war hardened her into a strong, fascinating woman. In a time when women were expected to sit back and let the men take care of them, Scarlett did the opposite. When tragedies struck, it was Scarlett’s intelligence that prevailed. She knew how to work with the cards that life dealt her. She married Frank Kennedy for money and security, farmed a plantation to keep her household from starving, transformed curtains into dresses and took advantage of reconstruction by starting her own successful lumber business.
And then there was her sexuality. Even as a teenage virgin, Scarlett knew how to wield her sexual power like a sword in battle. Her pouty lips and blue eyes were her weapons of choice. But by the time she and Rhett Butler came together, Scarlett was far from the blushing virgin. She had been married twice and had conceived two children already. (The kids prior to Rhett were cut out of the movie version. I think this was done so that the first time sex is mentioned, it would be with Rhett, not her two former husbands. That was Hollywood in the 1930’s for you!)
Another of my favorite heroines is Claire Fraser from the time-travel romance series, Outlander. Claire is one of the most practical and capable heroines I have ever read. Very few women I know would willingly give up the conveniences of the modern world in exchange for a harsh life in eighteenth century Scotland. Not only did Claire do this, but she put herself through medical school first so she could have useful skills to share with the highlanders. I love the scenes where she sets bread out purposely to spoil so she can make penicillin from the mold. Every twist and turn this strange and brutal culture throws at her, she meets head-on with strength and courage.
These qualities were the glue that held together her relationship with her husband, Jamie. No time or distance would ever stand in the way of their love. She didn’t even allow their marriages to other people get in the way. As far as sex went, Claire had been married in her own time period before meeting Jamie, and it was she who took his virginity in the marriage bed. But from that point on, the two met each other as sexual equals.
When it comes to female sexual power though, nothing beats Georgina Kincaid from Richelle Mead’s Succubus series. Georgina is a succubus, which means she literally feeds off of the sexual energy of others. Since she needs sex at least every couple of days and she is a couple thousand years old, I think it is safe to say that she is the most sexually experienced heroine I have ever read. For me, this is a symbol of female empowerment. Women should be able to take control over their bodies and their pleasure.
Before you assume that Georgina is nothing but a walking sex machine, she is also a productive member of society. She is the assistant manager of a large book store with a good head for business. She also enjoys her quiet time with good books and spending time with her close group of friends. There is a strong moral streak in Georgina which she must balance with her feeding instincts.
So, now I’d like to open it up to you. Who are your favorite heroines? What qualities set them apart from the crowd? And what are your thoughts about sexuality in female romance characters?