Healing Toxic Masculinity in Sweatpants Season by Danielle Allen

Publication year

Here's a description from the Introduction:

This collection is organized in six parts. Part One, "Problematic Masculinities," includes two essays that take one of the most common critiques of the genre head-on and consider the continuing presence and substantial popularity of masculine characters and tropes we have come to recognize as toxic. Jonathan A. Allan, in "Healing Toxic Masculinity in Sweatpants Season by Danielle Allen," showcases the ways in which romance authors are confronting and "healing" the trope and focuses particularly on one novel's attempt to remediate its male lead's toxic behaviors.

And here are some quotes from the essay itself:

It is important that we begin with a recognition that the popular romance novel is literature. I say this because scholars of popular romance continue to face questions about the "value" of their study of these novels. There are very few courses across university campuses devoted to the study of popular romance, and yet, as readers will tell you, romance novels are doing a lot - there is much that happens before the happily ever after.

Romance novels attend to many cultural dilemmas and concerns. Since the 1980s and the HIV/AIDS crisis, safer sex practices are common in popular romance novels. Romance novels can reflect the diversity of relationships, for instance, the rise of the male/male popular romance as one example, but, of course, the genre is exploring sexuality writ large from romances about trans characters to BDSM romances, and recently asexual romances, as well as varying degrees of sexuality and explicitness. In terms of gender and sex, women are no longer virginal secretaries as a stereotype of the genre might hold (truth be told, they were never only virginal secretaries, and even though the genre has grown, virginal secretaries might still be found!), but they can be CEOs, just as men can be nannies and stay-at-home dads. The world of romance reflects the world in which it is written.

In this essay, I wish to focus on the shifting nature of masculinity in the popular romance novel, and in particular, I seek to consider [...] Eva Illouz's question "why is traditional masculinity pleasurable in fantasy?" (58). I agree with the assumptions that underlie her question and I continue to be fascinated by how traditional masculinity works in the genre, for instance, how masculinity is represented. That being said, I also recognize and insist that the popular romance novel is thinking deeply about the nature, expression, performance, and expectations of gender. That is, as much as the genre may be interested in so-called traditional masculinity, I cannot help but see the ways in which masculinity is also challenged and reimagined. In this essay, then, I am interested in a very specific manifestation of masculinity, namely "toxic masculinity," which has become a media and popular phenomenon that has, unsurprisingly made its way into the world of romance. (17-18)


I wish to think through toxic masculinity and popular romance fiction, and more particularly, how the popular romance novel seeks to cure or heal the toxic hero. (21)


In this essay, then, I am interested in exploring a novel called Sweatpants Season (2018) by Danielle Allen. This novel is explicitly feminist; the heroine identifies as feminist. (22)