My original idea for this panel related to the idea of a heroine in the romantic sense: someone who meets a hero, goes through trials and tribulations with (and apart from) the hero, and eventually settles down to live happily ever after (or at least 'happily for now') with the hero. This definition distinguishes the feminist heroine from a female protagonist (although our heroine can be the protagonist of her story) or a hero that just happens to be female (and who may or may not win the heart of the story's heroine for herself).
All three types of female character (and the ways in which the types can overlap and intersect) are worthy of discussion, but I'm going to go with my original definition here, and leave the other two for other discussions. I'm also going to stick almost exclusively with heterosexual romance (and leave 'where are all the bisexual characters?' for another day).
[Continuing at home after I got back from the day job] In traditional romance it seems to be expected for the heroine to be basically passive, and for events to unfold around her (although that trend has been bucked by authors at least as far back as Jane Austen). The heroine makes choices, certainly, but only when she absolutely has to, and generally those choices are presented by men (or by her family) and aren't particularly deep. The suitable suitor or the less suitable, more interesting, one? Love or family? And even when she's made a choice, the plot may well negate any regrets or less desirable side effects by suddenly producing a way she can have the best of both worlds. The rake is really a good man! The dull hero has hidden depths! Her love and/or her family will move house so she can devote a proportion of her time to both!
And that's the other thing. I've been dipping into romances (usually publishers' free online samples or short stories in magazines abandoned by their readers) and we still see far too much reinforcement of the idea that any woman, no matter how career-orientated is going to want to settle down eventually. Also there are far too many reminders of the pay and career path disparities between women and men. I'd like to see more stories where the heroine is the better-paid, more successful part of the pairing, and where her love interest is her subordinate, or works in a less prestigious job. Then, of course, the happy ever after/happy for now ending carries the implication that our heroine is going to continue to shine at whatever she does in her career, now supported by her soul mate.
Feminism's about choice though. There's nothing negative about a heroine deciding to settle down for now, but I'd like the decision to be more obviously a decision made after considering the options, and what those changes will mean for her and her relationship(s). Equally I'd like to see the mirror of these stories where the heroine's partner decides to become the child-carer and/or home-maker, while the heroine plans to become the main wage-earner.
Finally I'd like to see more heroines that don't fit the media's concepts of beauty, whether that's larger-sized heroines, heroines with disabilities, or heroines that just aren't conventionally good-looking. I've tried to write a heroine that fulfills the first two categories in The Monitors. Now I just have to wait for reader reactions when the story comes out.
What do you think? Am I reading the wrong romances looking for my genre-subverting heroines? Do I need to read more of the genre conventions in order to properly subvert them myself? Do romance readers really want their genre subverted anyway?