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Picture for Frustrating Sexist Romatic Tropes 600 wide but taller

I write and enjoy romances, but there are a lot of toxic, sexist patterns deeply ingrained in the genre (in addition to a lot of heterosexism). Here I present five tropes common in mainstream romances that I find particularly frustrating:

  1. Boundary-crossing behaviors are romantic if a man is deeply in love
    • Subtext: True love results in a loss of self-control in men which leads them to engage in stalking, harassment, and other boundary-crossing behaviors which they would otherwise not engage in
    • Subtext: Stalking, harassment, and other boundary-crossing behaviors are about expressing affection (rather than being expressions power)
  2. Using promiscuous women as props to enhance the desirability of a man
    • Subtext: Promiscuous women aren’t desirable as romantic partners
    • Subtext: Promiscuous women are objects for men to use
  3. The woman who initially says “No!” is the right woman for a particular man
    • Frequent pattern: She is the only woman who has ever said “No!” to that man
    • Subtext: Women who say “Yes!” are objects for male enjoyment rather than being full people with the potential to be come romantic partners
    • Subtext: A “No!” can be turned into a “Yes!” with persistence
  4. The romantic hero who jumps in to defend a woman
    • Frequent pattern: This behavior is treated as proof of a man’s character and desirability
    • Subtext: Women can’t defend themselves and are helpless
    • Subtext: Willingness to jump into conflict is a desirable trait in men
    • Modern twist: A White Knight jumps in to defend a woman, but it turns out she didn’t really need help; despite her lack of need, the man’s actions are still treated as proof of his desirability
  5. Feminism stops women from having romance in their lives
    • Frequent pattern: A feminist woman (or the caricature of a feminist woman) is initially offended by a man’s helpful or romantic behavior, but she learns to let go of some of her feminism so that she can instead have a romance with the man
    • Subtext: Feminism means being man-hating
    • Subtext: Romance without sexism isn’t possible, so women have to choose one or the other

For media creators in particular, these are patterns are worth avoiding. As a feminist writer, I find it easy to avoid the blatant version of them, but I think it is important to mention how easy it is to fall into a more subtle version of one of them (such as using a minor female character to establish the desirability of another character, for example). That is why awareness is so important; the more aware we are of these patterns, the easier it is to fine and remove the more subtle versions of them from our work and our lives.


Image credit: The Kiss by Francesco Hayez, public domain

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