Cougars, Grannies, Evil Stepmothers, and Menopausal Hot Flashers: Roles, Representations of Age, and the Non-traditional Romance Heroine

Queensland University of Technology
Publication year

Here's the abstract:

A love story is the fundamental component to a romance novel; it is what drives the genre and what romance writers and readers expect to engage with in some form. However, after the age of 40, a woman is usually denied a place in the central love story by the romance publishing industry via specific mandated guidelines for writers and a flow-on effect for readers. This study and companion novel For Your Eyes Only explore the representations of older women as protagonists (the ‘heroine’) in contemporary romance fiction. The work argues that romance fiction maintains stereotypes and archetypes of middle-aged and older women, which limits their roles and behaviour to those of secondary characters, or removes them from the status of central character in romance and places them in Women’s Fiction. This transfer from a novel where the love story is the key element of the plot to novels where a love story is only a sliver of the plot, suggests that older women are not entitled to be the love interest in romance fiction. The exegesis and the novel consider and therefore challenge the constraints that are placed on romance writers who are guided by prescriptive expectations from publishers around the age of romance heroines.

The study indicates that there is increasing evidence of an older age reading demographic for romance texts, which demands romances featuring older women, and there are romance authors who seek to shift the parameters of the central love story so that it is more inclusive of older women. In some respects, this demand reveals that the genre, while still retaining its fantasy and escapist inflections, is being called on to be more ‘truthful’ in its inclusion and portrayal of women across all age demographics.

The exegesis analyses the romance genre, the romance publishing industry, readers of romance and the few contemporary romance novels that feature a mature-aged romance heroine. The creative work, For Your Eyes Only, constructs a narrative in which older women as romantic heroines can assert agency. The novel features a heroine who is not answerable to the demands of conventional romantic stereotypes and challenges the conventions of age and the portrayal of non-traditional romance heroines in contemporary romance novels. In other words, rather than become a stereotyped secondary character that is often the case in romance novels, the mid-life romance heroine of For Your Eyes Only, with her mature sexuality, life experience, and position in society, is central to the love story and challenges the established and expected roles for a woman over 40 that are typically found in romance fiction.