Pondering the Double Standard

I just had this moment of renewed sense of wonder at the double standard in romance books…maybe others too, but especially romance.

I’ve noticed that it’s perfectly okay for the lead female to be skinny, fat, well put together or slightly falling apart, but the lead male must be perfect in body, in looks and basically in the alpha male persona. I can’t really understand how women justify, “love the lead female no matter what she looks like,” when they turn around and demand that the lead male be nearly perfect. The argument that I hear is that the “perfect female” sets up unrealistic beliefs and make women feel badly about themselves, but how does that not translate to men? If a fictional book has that much power over a person’s sense of self worth then how is it that expecting perfection out of the man isn’t just setting up an unrealistic idea for women on the men who are out there in reality.

I know people say that romance is for women so it’s delving into that fantasy, but there are men who read and write the genre. Beyond that, if we’re going to preach acceptance of one gender shouldn’t we want that acceptance across the board. If the lead female gets to be a size fifteen or sixteen then why can’t the lead male be a little more rotund and a little less six pack abs?

I’ll admit that I tend to write men who are in good physical shape. I like my men fit in real life too, but I also demand that same standard for myself. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect my man to be perfect, but I do expect him to take care of his health and to workout. Hey, think of all the fun we can have working out together. So when I write a book my lead males are generally in shape. What I do find I have to try to do is vary the “in-shape” status. I’m not really into bulky muscles. It’s just not my thing, but I know some women are, so I try to include men with the “bodybuilder” body into my books. Generally while I’m writing some of the love scenes I have to visualize the character slightly differently because the bulky muscle thing really doesn’t turn me on.

So what I tried to do when wondering about the double standard was take a look at all sides of the issue. Writers, not all but some, probably have a tendency to write the lead female either

  1. The way they look,
  2. The way they want to look.
  3. The way they want to write the character without any real motive behind it.

I think sometimes there’s almost a sense of trying to ask for acceptance. The lead female being accepted as she is, is kind of like asking the world around us to be accepted for who we are and for how we look. But then why don’t we do the same for the lead male? Why can’t we write a realistic lead male in a romance who isn’t quite so perfect? I think that the reason has to do with what sells. Seriously, how many women would be okay reading a romance book where the lead guy looks like the average guy? Would there be a turn on, or a turn off?

I really don’t have any answers to any of these questions. I have theories that tend to lead to more questions, but no real answers as to why it’s okay for women to have double standards but not for men to have them. Why is it okay for women to expect the man to be perfect when they are not willing to expect that perfection from themselves? What do you think is the reason for the duplicity? I’d love to hear somebody else’s thoughts on this one. As I said, I don’t really have any real answers to any of the questions. But sometimes I like to ponder things, and sometimes it’s enlightening to find out how other people see the same issues. I love learning. So, why not educate me on your ideas on the topic? Leave a comment and let me know. I promise as long as it’s nothing linking to an illegal site or spamming my page I’ll approve the comment. Oh, and please play nice with each other should decide to comment.



  1. Interesting questions!

    I believe it’s all about the fantasy. A typical romance novel is about the journey of the lead character as they overcome whatever obstacles are in their way to achieve Twoo Wuv with the Person Of Their Dreams. The love interest is, in a sense, a construct. A representation of that fantasy. A loosely-bound selection of body parts and positive character traits that act solely as a goal and eventual reward for the lead character. See also: most female characters in Hollywood movies. Their flaws, their journey, are largely irrelevant, and thus the appearance of perfection is really a reflection on the superficiality of the character.

    And I don’t think the imperfections of the lead character are so much for preaching acceptance; most of the time, the lead will have to overcome at least some of their perceived flaws in order to gain access to the love interest (whether by being nicer, making themselves look nicer, overcoming fears, whatever). It’s more to provide a stronger contrast with the eventual happy conclusion, and as an easy source of conflict, which as we all know, is what drives fiction. But… perhaps I’m a little cynical. 😀

    • I wouldn’t call you cynical :). I think you might be on to something here. It’s an interesting concept of superficiality of the character. I hadn’t really looked at it that way. And you are right, conflict is what drives the story…fiction or otherwise.

      I think I’m looking mostly at some of the recent books I have read where it feels as if the writer is trying to make sure the lead male loves the female just the way she is, imperfections and all. The only thing that changes in the lead female is that by the end of the book she stops constantly reminding me, the reader, that she doesn’t deserve such a hot man because she’s not so hot herself. I guess that’s a big psychological and emotional development, to go from feeling undeserving to feeling deserving. It seems like a push from the author for acceptance or to try to make people open their eyes to the idea of accepting others flaws and all. But then I’m also the person who analyzed D.H. Lawrence’s books and tried to figure out just what issues in his life he was working through at the time when he wrote the book. The psychologist in me just refuses to let anything be superficial. I always have a tendency to think there’s something more. That could be a good and bad quality to have I guess. It’s good in a way to believe there’s something more than just the superficial, but oh so bad that I have a tendency to analyze everything as if it really means something more when in reality it may mean nothing at all.

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