Friday, February 24, 2012

Paranormal Cinderellas

'Cinderella's Royal Table' photo (c) 2010, HarshLight - license:

Looking at so many Paranormal Romance series the title of this post isn’t just a cheesey line from an 80s hair band (don’t judge my taste in music), but for the female partner in so many of these stories, an accurate summation of their lives. Time after time, we see these women live unpleasant, hollow, painful or just plain dull and uninspiring, hopeless lives and suddenly, all is saved and rescued by the man - who is sexy and exciting and magical and special and gives them a reason to live again! One could call it, saved by the penis. We see it so often - in JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, Anya Bast’s Elemental Witches, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Series, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling Series, DB Reynold’s Vampires in America Series and so many more - this post was actually getting ridiculously long from the examples we were adding

In Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Series we have Grace Alexander (the world's most unqualified sex therapist, all sad and lonely), Amanda (messy break up, arsehole ex, actually dedicated to making her life as dull and boring as possible), Astrid (the justice nymph who has lost her faith in there being any innocent men in the world), Cassandra (literally on the run for her life, hunted by Daimons and doomed to die in a few months anyway), Bride (bad breakup, low self-esteem), Susan (career and love life in tatters): even Marguerite (living her father’s expectations, not her real life) and Tabitha (aimless and drifting) were somewhat lost.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood - I’ve already touched on in detail, but again we have Beth, Mary, Marissa, Bella, Ehlena, Cormia, Payne - the same pattern, women with miserable, unfulfilled and generally unhappy lives before their men swoop in. They’re lonely, they’re sad, they’re desperate - they’re even ill or severely injured (Mary, Payne) or shunned and ostracised (Ehlena, Marissa) and frequently they have been physically rescued from kidnapping (just about every damn one of them).

In Anya Bast’s Elemental Witches, Mira has a dead end job, has come from a messy divorce and doesn’t even know she’s a witch. Isabelle exists for revenge and has no life outside of avenging her friend (which she doesn’t even achieve!). Clare is a demon’s handmaiden and is, yes, rescued into a completely new life and Sarafina? Yes, again rescued from kidnapping.

And do I need to talk about Nalini Singh Psy/Changeling Series? The Psy women are living in societies that are slowly destroying them and repressing them. They’re cut off from their emotions and Faith and Sascha are literally being driven insane by the lives they are forced to live. In fact, except for the 2 shapeshifter women, Indigo and Mercy, all of the women of the series are being rescued or healed from something.

And after being saved? He is now their lives.Partly because their lives were so wretched before - but they are so often willing to uproot everything, completely transform their entire lives to now live the lives of their man. They often move into his house, concentrate on his life, his mission, his goals, his dreams, his purpose. They don’t make a life together, they live his life and she becomes an adjutant to that life.

And, pre-empting the excuse, yes, her life would often be secondary to his simply because her life was so empty and less important and mundane compared to his fantastic, mighty powerful life. But that is part of the problem as well, part of the trope - these women are written to have nothing but him - they’re set up to have a disposable existence that can be thrown away as soon as the much more important man comes in

Even in cases in which the protagonists are strong and accomplished women, invariably when the love interest comes on the scene, all of the hard work that she has done to establish herself goes out the window so that she can integrate herself into his life.  In the case of Lyndsay Sands Argeneau series, time and time again, we have capable female protagonists who either go to mush at the site of a man, or they are quick to exchange their very lives all of the honour of being their spouse.  Living forever and passing out each time you orgasm might sound great on the face of it, but you would think that at least one of these women would be arsed to ask about the downside of this before opting for the fairytale ending. 

In nearly all of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, the women move into the Black Dagger compound and kind of fade into the background. They become almost furniture in the manor while the men continue their oh-so-important work of fighting the lessers. Marissa founds Safe Place after the fact but she’s the only one dedicated to it and it’s a goal she found after joining the Brothers and at least in part because of the politics the Brothers, and the king, are involved in. Even Ehlena and Dr. Jane, skilled and talented medical professionals, become the Brotherhood’s private medical staff.

In the Dark Hunter series, again we see even the most accomplished women settling into their men’s lives. Half the time we end in a twee wedding and, almost inevitably, the woo-woo arrives to give them eternal life in the supernatural world (when, almost inevitably, the women are human and the men are the supernatural beings). It’s telling that the main exception to the human love interests, Danger, a Dark Hunter in her own right, ends up joining her man in woo-woo land and completely isolated from everyone she knew before.

And Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling Series is classic here. The female Psy (and even human) lovers have to actually defect from their people, their families, their lives to live with their men. It is actually seen as something tantamount to treason by their own people - but they leave it all behind for their men. And, again, the telling exception, Judd the male Psy love interest has already defected before he meets Brenna, he’s already built a new life with the Pack - he doesn’t have to move to the pack to build a new life around her.

And yet again, Anya Bast’s Elemental Witches we see the same thing. How many of the female love interests in any of these books are actually part of the main witch organisation they all end up joining with their men? They aren’t. The men are established member of the larger witch organisation - valued, high ranking, living valuable and powerful lives within the organisation. The women all join their menfolk as part of the fold - living the lives the men were living before with no shreds of what the women were doing.

All this flies in the face of how a good relationship works.  No one falls in love with an empty shell.  This is something D.B Reynolds really needs to take note of - one week of knowing someone is not enough to cause a declaration of undying love.  These women have no interests beyond their suffering.  They have nothing to offer the perspective mates.  This is compounded upon by the fact that the new man suddenly brings out aspects of themselves that they were never aware of. Yes, I’m giving the side eye on this one.  

And at the end of all this? It’s Happily Ever After; so much so I think copious amounts of Valium are involved.  Even when we do see the couple in follow up books in the same world, (Lynsay Sands, Sherillyn Kenyon, J.R. Ward, Anya Bast) in order to connect the stories, the one thing that is certain, is that they are always happy and this perfect bliss is only disturbed long enough to argue about who loves who more. Syrup is more easily digestible than the ridiculous sweet nothings authors employ to ensure  that falling in lust can last forever.  So, not only do we have love being declared ridiculously fast, we also have the most impossible union.   Thank goodness these books fall into the category of paranormal romance, because with a 2 out of 3 divorce rate, no one could take this seriously.

I know, in some ways it’s the fairy tale princess scenario. Cinderella saved from cleaning the ashes, Rapunzel rescued from her tower - these women live in dire circumstances and are saved by their big strong man and true love, awwww... The ending is absolutely magical as they go on to live happily ever after, never to be touched by sorrow or loneliness again.

But I can’t just dismiss it as fairy tale tweeness (not even in the fairy tales). It has real world messages and a real impact on the lives of the women these books are aimed at.