Jessica at Read, React, Review has been
asking why romance heroes are so well endowed. If some aspect of romance is sexual fantasy, it may seem obvious. But real women don’t seem to care too much about this sort of thing.so then Jessica asked
But what about the heroine’s reaction to The Big Reveal? It’s often fear, nervousness, shock, or awe. Perhaps a lot of that reaction can be attributed to the fact that so many romance heroines are virgins. But think about it: why does it make sense that a penis — even a big one — should be terrifying to anyone, ever? And, besides, even experienced often heroines have the same reaction.While I was still pondering those questions, I happened to read a post about:
the relentless pursuit of growth, measured in monetary terms, which takes no account of finite natural capital or people’s well-being. To illustrate the fundamental points: we would need three planets to allow all nations to grow equally, and despite massive GDP growth we appear to be no happier than we were thirty years ago.I spot a some common themes here: worries about growth in the context of finite natural resources, and a threat to the happily-ever-after of the protagonists.
Before you all decide that this is a case of a poor, innocent metaphor being stretched to breaking point, I'd like to observe that a very high proportion of romance heroes are well endowed both physically and financially. Indeed, Jan Cohn has observed that
It is a commonplace of romance that the heroine will marry well, a given that the hero will be rich. [...] Romance fiction offers a fantasy of female success, specifically economic success, the aggressive nature of which it thoroughly masks under the heroine's extreme economic innocence. [...] This strategy, basic to the romance formula, attempts to disguise both the heroine's real goal and the profound association between sexual and economic power that lies at the heart of romance, as realized in the figure of the romance hero. Economic success becomes a condition of the hero of romance. It is not simply a matter of the hero's wealth as an added-on value; his wealth, his property and economic power, are basic attributes of his masculinity, a principal source of his virile attractiveness. (127)It is, after all "a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" (Austen 51). And if a man's "good fortune" is a "basic attribute of his masculinity," isn't it equally possible that the most obvious "basic attribute of his masculinity" might symbolise his "good fortune"? And, given the ruthless nature of both rakes and unregulated capitalism, is it really surprising that the heroine should have some concerns when she realises just how very large his "good fortune" is?
It seems something worth pondering, although (a) I'm sure there is a strong element of purely sexual fantasy in such scenes and (b) I would be extremely surprised if any of the authors of this type of scene had intended there to be any economic symbolism.
Having now lived up (or down) to the expectations of those who "believe all college professors are radical Marxists," I'll leave you with a video about the value of a PhD in English:
- Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Tony Tanner. London: Penguin, 1985.
- Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women. Durham: Duke UP, 1988.