Thanks to the hard work of a lot of kick-ass women, our stories have improved. Plenty of books, movies and television shows feature strong, smart women whose fate is in their own hands. Zan O'Gara, the female protagonist in The Passion Season, is no exception. She is an army veteran who served in a dangerous, grueling capacity in Afghanistan. She successfully completed vigorous training to become an FBI agent. She is professionally and sexually assertive and true to herself. But The Passion Season is a romance at its heart, and some of the best elements of romance can present a dilemma for the romance writer who wants her protagonists to be feminist to their core.
Many romance novels spin tales of gorgeous, muscular men who rescue and protect the women they love at all costs. Men who are so enamored of the female protagonist they devote their lives to her wellbeing. Even though my book is different, I don't see anything wrong with these stories. Think about women's lives. Maybe they work all day, then have to come home and get dinner for the family, and clean the house some before it turns into a health hazard. They might have to care for elderly parents, and do their taxes, and get the car inspected, and make sure little Kyle doesn't flunk math. They spend their lives taking care of others and rarely get time to themselves. They are amazing. They may not be able to handle weapons and beat dudes up like Zan, but they are the epitome of strength in the real world. If these women want to sink into a fantasy in which a handsome man lifts that burden -- the burden of keeping it all together -- then they should be allowed that indulgence. Fantasies can be a balm for our bruised minds.
I've chosen to write a different kind of story. I try to achieve a balance between the wonderful feeling women can get when they realize their men would do anything for them, and the need women have to take care of themselves. To know they can handle anything that is thrown at them, and to have to whole world know it too. The balance that allows them to be self-determining in every aspects of their lives, while still allowing their men to enjoy that feeling of being the protector sometimes, of being strong for the love of their life. After all, men are caught in the same web of social expectations as women. I wanted to write about a relationship in which the lovers protect each other, physically and emotionally.
Witness the following scene from The Passion Season, in which I try to strike this balance. Zan and Rainer (pronounced ry-ner), my male protagonist, are out at a bar with Zan's friends. A drunken cop has just slapped Zan on the ass. Rainer is not pleased.
* * *
“You fucking asshole!” Zan shouted, but that was all she got to say. Rainer was there. He grabbed Benson by the throat and pinned him to the wall with one hand, his blue eyes burning. He raised him so that Benson’s feet barely touched the floor.
“How dare you,” Rainer said, in a voice that rolled through the room like thunder. Everyone in the bar turned toward the sound. Spit dripped from Benson’s lips. His eyes were so wide it was like his lids had been surgically removed. A dark stain slowly spread over his pants.
“Rainer, let him go,” Zan said. Rainer did not move, staring like he was using his eyes to pin the man to the wall as well as his arm. “Rainer! Let him go!” He removed his hand. Benson stood there, coughing.
“Apologize.” Rainer’s voice demanded obedience with its vibration.
“Uh, uh, sorry, ma’am. Sorry, sorry.”
“Leave,” Rainer said, his eyes still burning. Benson stumbled away and out the door of the bar. As Rainer’s head turned to follow Benson’s exit, he exhaled, a sound more a growl than a breath. Zan could tell he did not want to let that man walk out of there. One glance at her friends told her they knew as well.
Great. Mel already thinks he’s nuts.
“What the hell, Rainer?” Zan glared up at him.
“That man is a police officer. You just assaulted him. You might be in a lot of trouble right now.”
“Assaulted him? He assaulted you!”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jamal said. “Rainer didn’t hurt him, and I don’t think Benson is going to want to publicize the fact that your boyfriend just literally scared the piss out of him.”
Mel and Michael started to laugh. “Oh my god, that was so excellent,” Mel said. Zan was surprised, but then again, Mel loathed Benson.
“Don’t encourage him,” Zan said. “Rainer, I don’t need you putting yourself at risk to defend my honor. I can defend my own honor.”
“What about my honor, Zan?” Rainer threw up his hands. “Do you actually think I would let a man touch you like that and do nothing?” He held her eyes. “No one is allowed to disrespect you.”
Zan’s anger was replaced by a rush of tenderness that she saw reflected in Rainer. They stood there gazing at each other, faintly smiling.
“Okay, kids, snap out of it.” Mel waved her hand in front of Zan’s face. “We’ve had an eventful day. Time to return to sanity.” They decided to leave, given that almost everyone in the bar was staring at them.
* * *
What do you think? A good balance?