Here’s something I know: women like to read stories about dedicated partners in sexually-charged situations.
In my other life, I teach freshman composition at a college. We write essays, the standard sort that college students have been writing for years. Thesis statements, MLA formatting, research. All the usual stuff. One place where I get to mix things up is in the prompts. A while back I was wondering what my students thought of the 50 Shades phenomena, so I included a prompt about the widespread popularity of the series. The prompt encouraged the students to question the contrast between the book’s content, the relationship between the two characters, and the current wave of new feminism. Bottom line—why do women connect with this book?
As you might imagine, the prompt generated interest. After reading several essays I’ve found a distinct difference between the younger, 18-20, and older, 25-30 women in regard to Mr. Grey’s relationship appeal.
The younger women find him super romantic. They are drawn to the idea of having a man so dedicated to you that he is “interested” in every aspect of your life. They don’t find him stalky or boundary-crossing, they find him devoted. These younger women write very little about the sex; they write almost exclusively about the attentive relationship. It seems that while young women view career and societal contribution as essential and validating, they still long for a dedicated partner.
The older women write about the sex. They are drawn to the idea of an extremely intense almost completely sexual relationship that has no emotional commitments. These women reflect that while they hope to have an emotionally intimate relationship in the future, they are, at present, busy with school and work and don’t have time to develop “that sort of thing” right now. This staying-single-longer, waiting-for-real-commitment life plan is on the rise, but as noted above with the younger set, this older set seeks devotion. They simply define devotion in a different way.
Here’s another thing: the popularity of female-centered stories is on the rise.
My thinking is that there are two reasons for this. Social media, the obvious one. Privacy and easy access afford the opportunity to enjoy, or experiment with, whatever intrigues. The second reason is the increase in younger readers. In the past, the typical age of the romance reader was about 30-60. Thanks to the popularity of YA books, and the creation of the new adult genre, younger women are reading romance—and women this age don’t want ‘the usual.’ Young women aren’t looking to reinforce their traditional values, they want to test boundaries. They want adventure. They seek vicarious thrills. What they heck, we all want vicarious thrills; that’s why we read romance.
We also love the happy endings.
Of course I write romances with happy endings. That’s one rule I won’t break. There’s a reason why its called escapist fiction.
In short: Dedicated partners + female centered, sexually charged situations + happy endings
= Make Me Blush