Romance fiction as a bridge to understanding changing gender roles in society

  • Donna Hanson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Building upon the ideas of Illouz (Illouz, 2017b) this practice led research project
encompasses a survey of readers and writers of romance fiction which supports the contribution to knowledge. Included in this thesis are textual analyses of romance fiction exploring engagement with feminism and feminist issues. The creative component is a self-reflexive and reflective futuristic science fiction novel, which explores gender and feminism by deliberately applying the motif of romance fiction as a conceptual ‘bridge’ between the present and the past.

The degree to which feminism—the discussion of feminist ideals and issues—has been taken up in romance fiction demonstrates and explains how romance fiction has become increasingly feminist. It is not just the feminist movement itself but upheaval in society caused by changes in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s which created a ‘perfect storm in marriage and family life’ (Coontz, 2005, p. 282). Selective aspects of feminism have been co-opted by Western governments and capitalism combined with a cultural focus on love in Western society. Feminism through these vectors promulgates notions of feminist equality in relation to education, employment and how both can increase purchasing power and participation in the economy (McRobbie, 2004, p. 14). Feminism since the 1970s has been part of the romance writers’ and readers’ habitus.

Romance fiction has absorbed and reflected facets of the feminist movement
surrounding the depiction of the heroine, her situation in the world and even the
perspectives of the hero. This incorporation includes gender politics, the economics of romantic relationships; and changing social views of love, marriage, sex and gender roles. Moreover, these works of fiction written mostly by women for women become culturally valuable historical documents (Auchmuty, 1999, pp. x-xi). This research argues that the ideas of ‘romance’ and ‘feminism’ are cojoined twins, providing the habitus for romance
writers and their readers.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorTony Eaton (Supervisor) & Jordan Williams (Supervisor)

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