by guest blogger Maya Rodale, author of smart and sassy romance novels
Earlier this year, I almost quit writing. The hours are endless, the pay is wildly unpredictable, and writing emotionally driven books is draining. So in pursuit of a new career, I took classes, applied for jobs, and imagined a life without deadlines. But in the end, I was pulled back in. And of course, it was a book—two books, in fact—that reminded me why I write, and why it’s romance novels that I write in particular.
I can’t remember how I stumbled across The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti, but I remember reading it on the train from Boston to New York and feeling all the feelings. The book examines all the weird and subversive ways we tie a woman’s entire worth to her sexual status—from purity balls (cringe) to Girls Gone Wild. Women, as many of us probably know, are put in an untenable position: We’re supposed to flaunt our sexuality through skimpy clothes and an overtly sexual appearance, but if we actually act sexually (whether by choice or not), them comes the slut shaming. “We’re teaching American girls that, one way or another, their bodies and their sexuality are what make them valuable,” Valenti writes. Not their brains, their abilities, their relationships, or feelings, but just their bodies. Their virgin bodies.
I remember getting so angry, so emotional, and so determined to do something to let girls know they are more than just their sexuality or their bodies; that they were worthy, valuable, cherished, and loveable no matter what. But what could I do?
Perhaps I could write a blog, I thought, scowling out the window. No, that wasn’t enough. Perhaps I could write a book. But it would have to be a book people would actually read; it couldn’t be too preachy, and it had to reach all kinds of women in all kinds of circumstances.
It could be…a romance novel. I could definitely write a girl-power story that all kinds of girls would read. (I know, duh).
And, in fact, at that point, I had already written the book for every girl who was told that her worth was inextricably bound to her virginity, her sexuality, or her marital status. What a Wallflower Wants is about a heroine named Prudence discovering her own strength and worth after she has been “compromised against her will,” to put it delicately. (But it wasn’t delicate. And it wasn’t by the hero.).
In the historical era in which the story is set (1820s England), a woman’s virginal status was everything. If it was discovered that she had been “compromised,” she would have to be married to her attacker—fast. No one else would have her. Without her virginity, she was worthless.
Sadly, this is still the reality in many parts of the world. I was motivated to tackle this story by all the tragic news stories about rape culture and sexual assault, and those against women’s pleasure and sexuality. I wanted to provide an alternative story showing that women, no matter what their experiences, are worthy of love and respect. I wanted to write a happy ending for all the girls who never got one.
Romance novels are inherently about the heroine claiming her own sexual pleasure on her terms and finding love, happiness, and safety with a hero who cherishes and respects her—hopefully, without losing a part of herself in the process. That is a story that I want to write over and over again until it’s not “unrealistic trashy fiction” but just another realistic happily ever after. That’s why I won’t quit writing.
Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master’s degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Visit her online at mayarodale.com, or say hello to her @mayarodale on Twitter.
I’m glad you won’t stop writing. What strong, intelligent women write for and about other women does matter. Books have a powerful effect (for good or bad) and we need more women writing for the good effect, to encourage other girls and women that they do have a right to happiness, and a right to chose who they love and a right to all the freedoms that men have. And boys and men need to learn that lesson as well. If they know women don’t like to be treated as just a ‘body’ with no brain, no feelings, no human kindness in a relationship, most of them will stop following the old, tired pattern we’ve seen for far too long. To be able to write is a wonderful gift, you have that gift, and the heart to use it for good! Thank you for using it for all of us.
I am so glad you are not going to stop writing. If one girl (woman) can realize that she is a valuable person because of her brain, rather than her body, by reading one of your books, you have done a service beyond compare. You have an amazing gift and I am thankful you share it with us. All the generations of woman who have fought to be recognized as people rather than objects must continue their pursuit of true freedom. Thanks.
I’m so glad you reconsidered and decided to continue writing. Your stories are wonderful and your characters are believable and ones that we can really relate to. There is so much garbage being written lately, and so many trashy novels out there trying to slip in under the disguise of “romance” that do give the romance genre a bad rep. Your books are such a refreshing change from the 50 shades of crap out there lately. Please please please give us more of your wonderful stories!!!!
Thank you all so much! I think all books have such power to change the way we think about ourselves and world. I’m proud to be one of thousands if not millions of authors trying to share a positive message that women and girl’s are worthy, valuable, lovable people and that it doesn’t make someone less of a man to believe that.
This is why I adore historical romances. Because the heroines rarely flaunt what they’ve got. They are modest and use their brains and attitude to attract the hero. Of course, the hero finds the heroine sexually attractive, wants nothing more to see more of her and take her into his arms and bed, but the problem I see is that women/girls today don’t give themselves the respect they deserve. Too many are not giving it away against their will but for free, as if it doesn’t, or as if they don’t mean anything. I see it less as not getting respect from guys and more not getting or giving respect to yourself or female friends. We seem to be more difficult on our own sex than men are to us.
Thank God you changed your mind! With What a Wallflower Wants, I believe you wrote what should become a classic. Your genius should be shared with readers, Maya. I will be a fan forever. Thank you!
Thank god you didn’t quite. Maya. I have loved your books since the 2 brothers *twins* I will get your books no matter what. Also waiting for your 4 some with Katharine Ashe . Miranda Neville and Caroline Linden