In Defense of Old Skool Harlequins

As I wrote about in a previous post, my first romance read was a Harlequin, picked up from the grocery store when I was nine.  Romance wise, I read only Harlequins until I was probably in middle school, when I stopped reading romance entirely.  This was before the market for YA romances opened up, and if there was such thing as YA romance at the time, I certainly wasn’t aware of it.  (Maybe because they weren’t available in the grocery store?)

Some anti-romance snobs might say that such reading material at an impressionable age would warp my young notions of what love should be like and how men should treat women.  Basically, that my budding feminism would be permanently stunted, all thanks to Harlequin.  (Because some books I read for fun would have way more influence on my ideas of gender relations than say, real life?)

But, as I promised, this story is a defense of Harlequin, an apology, if you will.  (Ha, classics humor!)

Because there is one particular Harlequin that I read that really stuck with me, that was just about as feminist as you please.  It was called An Unlikely Combination and it was written by Anne Marie Duquette.  It came out in 1988, not exactly the Age of Enlightenment in Romantical History.  (Oh joy, a quick Google search reveals she’s still writing!)

It’s about two forest rangers, both hard headed alpha personalities, forced to work together who do not like each other.  And aren’t particularly liked by the other rangers either.  They go on a surveying trip and fight the whole way (she’s usually right).  But then, she’s injured in a rescue and he fakes being her fiancee to go with her to the hospital.  They decide to get married for real, for practical reasons (she needs rehabilitation and has no family), but aren’t in love.  But then they are.

Here’s where the kicker comes:  she thinks she’ll never work as a ranger again (which she loves) due to her injuries and he encourages this line of thought.  It turns out, though, that she still has another chance at her job, but she has to go back and prove her fitness to her old boss.  He gives her an ultimatum: If you love me, give up your job, since it’s too dangerous.

She says no, I love you, but I love my job too.  I’m off to try to get it back.

Here we have Alpha Hero, telling the heroine, “I know what’s best for you, do as I say, because I love you.”  The trope that the anti-romancers always trot out as proof that the genre is anti-feminist.

And this heroine says no.  And proves again that she’s right and gets her job back.

I won’t completely give away the ending, and there’s a lot of other good stuff in the book I skipped over, but of course you know that it’s a happy one.  🙂

How’s that for feminist?


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