Browsing Tag

lori wick


escaping complementarianism through escapist literature (why I read romance novels)

romance novels

One of the things that I was extremely grateful for after my ex-fiancé broke our engagement was my student teaching at the Academy. I was working between 100 to 110 hours every week, so until about late October I had no time to really let what had happened get to me. I put off thinking about it until I had the time and space to break down.

So it wasn’t until about a month and a half after the fact that it really hit me– that he had broken off our relationship, and I wasn’t getting married. At this point, a few things started happening, and one of them was that I couldn’t sleep. I was routinely going two or three days without sleeping, and sometime in November I didn’t sleep at all for a solid week. I felt like I was slowly going crazy, and I knew I had to start getting regular sleep– somehow.

I turned to books. I’ve always turned to reading when something in my life was distressing, and this time was no different. I initially went to all the old stand-bys– Lori Wick, Janette Oke . . . but something that I very quickly realized was that the relationships between men and women in standard “Christian romance” novels reflected the same patterns that had existed in my relationship with John*. Books by these women, in particular, espoused a heavily complementarian view of relationships as a model for all relationships, and for reasons I didn’t really understand at the time, it creeped me out.

This was when I discovered romance novels.

I had been taught, from a very early age, that romance novels were utter rubbish. They were the dregs of literature– the basest thing a young woman could possibly put in her head. There have been many accusations made against the entire genre: they bring feminism to a screeching halt. Some believe that romance novels are inherently addictive, that women read these compulsively. One of the more common arguments I’ve heard is that romance novels are either equivalent to visual pornography, or are emotional porn for women (and, for fundamentalists who aspire to maintain emotional purity, this element is especially dangerous). A more unique argument is that romance novels are an example of women trying to fight against the curse— which is our ‘natural state’ apart from Christ. Occasionally, the women who were teaching me about the evils of the romance novel drew distinctions between Harlequin and Jane Austen, but not often. Some arguments pose that romance novels are defined by their “negative characteristics”; if they include erotica, if they are some form of “escapism”, if they encourage discontentment (especially dissatisfaction with your husband), or if they give the reader–and this is probably the most emphasized evil– an unrealistic expectation of love, romance, and marriage.

But I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of that. I needed to escape my life, at least for a few hours at a time. I couldn’t stand the reality I was living in, and I wanted a story to reassure me that love was still a good thing, that falling in love was an experience worth having. In my reality, what I had mistaken for “love” had betrayed me, violently. My “happy ending” was gone, but I wanted to believe that a happy ending still existed– somewhere, even if it was in a book. I bought Johanna Lindsey’s Once a Princess, and I loved every second of it. It was a thrilling chase story, but the plot was uncomplicated and straightforward. It didn’t involve a whole lot of me trying to anticipate the author– at one point, I described romance novels as “macaroni and cheese for the brain.” Sure, it may not have the challenge of Ulysses, but who wants “steak” all of the time?

Looking back, there’s an interesting conundrum surrounding the romance genre. On one hand, the very existence of the romance novel is a feminist realization. Romance novels declare women to be the author of their fate, that they get to choose love, that they have control over their bodies, and they can, shockingly, experience pleasure. The more erotic scenes feature attentive lovers who place the woman at the very center of their attention.* Romance novels, with nearly one voice, declare that a woman is right when she seeks equality, justice– that she deserves to be valued for herself.

Also, this video on the history of the romance novel as a feminist movement is amazing.

On the other hand, romance novels very frequently enforce some shallow gender stereotypes, so there’s that.

But, for me, romance novels helped me re-order my priorities as a woman. It helped me realize that being a strong, feisty, independent, stubborn-as-hell woman was a good thing that I should never surrender to anyone, for any reason. They helped me laugh again, and for a few hours, they could cheer me up. I could believe that love wasn’t always going to hurt me. It painted a picture of different version of male/female relationships, one where the woman had a voice, and was truly an equal partner.

What do you think of the romance novel genre? Does it undermine feminism? Do you think we should exercise more caution if we’re going to read romance novels? Or, has reading a romance novel been a positive experience for you?

*the link is to Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, which I think every single woman on the planet should read. One of her central arguments is that making the woman the primary focus of sex generally makes sex a better experience for everyone.


sexism in Christian romance novels

If you haven’t read Who Brings Forth the Wind by Lori Wick, thank your lucky stars.

Done thanking them?


I, unfortunately, have read this book . . . many much more times than I would like to admit. Growing up IFB, your reading choices are pretty limited. Grace Livingston Hill and Elsie Dinsmore top most lists, and nearly every IFB teenager girl I met had a copy of Stepping Heavenward in her purse. My mother was slightly more liberal, and I was allowed to read Lori Wick, Lauraine Snelling, and Janette Oke.

I started to refuse reading this *ahem* tripe after I discovered actual literature– including, but not limited to, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde . . . and Orson Scott Card, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick . . . (I might maybe be a huge geek).

However, I was pretty familiar with Lori Wick’s Kensington Chronicles, including the above. The essentials of the plot are as follows:

Innocent, naive country virgin goes to London for the Season.
Bitter, trust-issues, oppressive and controlling Duke wants her to be his mistress.
She says no, she’ll only be an honest woman.
They get married.
Bitter, trust-issues Duke “catches” her in the arms of another man.
He sends his now-pregnant-but-she-has-no-idea wife away.
She gets saved.
They are re-united.
Years and years and many children and grandchildren later, he gets saved, too.

Follow? Ok. Good.

The question that most of the book centers around lies in the simple question: how does the Duke get saved?

The answer, my friends, is that she is good, obedient, submissive wife, and through her adoring flexibility and compassion, wins his heart. He never would have gotten saved if she had done things like stand up for herself, or her children, and told her abusive husband to go screw himself. No, she was sweet, and loving, and kind, and considerate, and only because of that was he able to understand the Love of God and Come to a Saving Knowledge of Jesus Christ.


One of the most problematic elements, I believe, facing modern conservative evangelicalism is that sexism is so horribly, horribly rampant. It completely saturates nearly everything it touches. The church I attended with my parents for three years after we left the IFB movement was not that much different when it comes to sexism. Women are ignored, regardless of ability, in favor of men filling the same role.

A woman can do it better? No, she can’t! She’s not a man! So, even if she could do it better, no one would follow or trust her, and her leadership would be ineffectual and all her efforts would be fruitless. If a man did it, even poorly, at least he could be respected and people would listen to him.

I attended a Sunday school class that was only women, and the pastor’s wife stood up and explained to us that it was okay that a woman would be speaking, because they’re only women present. Nothing to worry about here, she “joked.”

The associate pastor’s wife stood up and gave a “lesson” on how not “submitting” to your husband is a sin. Her anecdote was an encounter she had with her husband, who asked her where an item he’d lost was. She was doing the dishes. She told him she didn’t know, and why didn’t he look for it, she was busy. Oh, my word, how she sinnnnnned against her husband. She felt so guilty that she immediately dropped what was doing and went and found it for him. Because good wives submit to their husbands. Good wives are “helpmeets.” Good wives drop anything they are doing, always, because they are there to help support their husband, and how can he go and be a Great Christian Leader if he’s distracted by looking for his socks?


There’s been a lot of focus recently, on “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood.”

And I’m puzzled because, frankly, I don’t really see any such thing in the Bible.

Can someone please show me where the “Fruit of the Spirit for Men” and the “Fruit of the Spirit for Women” is, because I’ve looked, and I can’t find it. But, supposedly, it’s there.

What I do find are universal calls to service, to action, to love. There’s no difference between a good Christian man and a good Christian woman. We’re both told to seek love, joy, peace, patience, long-suffering, temperance, forgiveness, compassion. In Christ, there is no male nor female. Dividing up all these aspects of Christianity into “manly virtues” and “feminine virtues” is such a load of chickenshit. Follow Christ, and being a good man, or woman, will come.

Photo by Sela Yair