Per usual, I’m probably about a month late and many dollars short to this conversation, but when I have something to say about a particular topic it usually takes me days to put together my thoughts in any rational form. By the time I have come up with my point in a succinct, coherent way, the conversation is over. (Not that what follows is necessarily succinct or coherent).
But, aha!, I have a blog. I can talk about whatever I want, whenever I want. So, today I’m going to talk about the idea that epilogues featuring marriage and/or babies is somehow anti-feminist or misogynistic.
There was a conversation about babylogues (an epilogue featuring hero and heroine blissfully happy and full of BABIES) on Twitter weeks ago, and my grand addition to that conversation was I really want to see an epilogue that featured the truth of babies. Parents who would give their left leg for a few hours of sleep.
I’m not a big proponent of the babylogue. Perhaps it’s because I am too close to having babies myself and I JUST WANT TO SLEEP. I do not want to read about smiling, content women blissfully cradling their babies. I want to read about a toddler jamming their head into her crotch while the baby screams its head off. (I admit, that’s not exactly the happily ever fantasy many crave in romance).
BUT, I noticed time and time again this idea that a babylogue or any epilogue that featured the hero and heroine settled in marriage and having kids was somehow anti-woman, anti-feminist, or misogynistic. That it meant the author had some ingrained belief that only marriage and babies can satisfy a woman.
I couldn’t quite pinpoint why that bothered me at first, because, yes, babylogues can be misogynistic. I’m sure there are authors out there, just like that there are people out there, who believe a woman’s role is subservient to a man’s, and that she must get married and pop out babies to be happy.
But, here is the problem I have with labeling “marriage and kids” as automatically equalling “hates women”. Some women do want to have babies and some woman do want to get married and they find men who want marriage and babies and I don’t think there’s anything wrong or inherently degrading about that. Yes, it’s a societal norm, but I don’t feel that means it’s wrong.
Per usual, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of ALL and EITHER/OR there are too many grey areas. I think most of us agree with that, but sometimes in our irritation with something that gets lost in the discourse. Or, if it’s on Twitter, word limit impinges upon the point as well.
Still, in this conversation, I didn’t see a lot of people standing up for the babylogue, and that’s cool. You don’t have to like them, I actually usually don’t, but I don’t have a problem with most of them either. So, here I stand. Saying babylogues can be okay. And non-babylogues can be okay. And it can all be okay without it being damaging or denigrating to woman.
As can be said with everything, it’s ALL about the execution. I don’t stand here pro-EVERY babylogue. I stand here pro-SOME babylogue. When it’s right for the characters and the story and there’s spit-up or an exhausted parent somewhere.
Because, hey, I am married and I have kids. I wanted to get married and I wanted to have kids. Was it the sole purpose of my life? No. Was I happy to stay at home and not have to continue working in jobs I hated? Hell to the yes. And, so, I have no problem with a woman who wants these things. I don’t think less of her because I AM her.
My mom raised me and my sisters with the idea that a woman could do anything a man could do. There was a period in my life I was determined to be the first female MLB player (let’s ignore the fact my athletic skills leave something to be desired). My mom, through her comments, the books she read us, the movies she watched with us, told us in big shiny letters we were as important, strong, and capable as men. Equals.
She did this while staying at home with her kids while my dad worked.
And this is the crux of my discomfort with the notion marriage and babies can’t be fulfilling. Or can’t be feminist. Because my mom wasn’t having any archaic notion bullshit in her house, and she raised three intelligent, educated, driven daughters (one sister is about to graduate med school, the other is a journalism student in a competitive program). But marriage and babies were her life for a lot of years. It’s not mutually exclusive or some ingrained misogyny.
I remember during this past election I was getting pissed off at a certain candidate assuming that the woman needed to go home and cook her family dinner. I may have muttered some things about misogyny and my husband looked at me and told me I was the weirdest feminist ever, because I do in fact stay at home, cook for my family, and care for the children. If I couldn’t be a writer, I would have no desire for a job whatsoever. I am quite happy being a lame version of Suzy Homemaker.
I explained to him (a little woman-splaining, if you will) I believe feminism isn’t about not being moms or having jobs or cooking or not cooking. Feminism is about women being offered the same choice men are offered. Feminism, for me, is about equality. That I CAN work outside the home if I choose to. That I don’t have to love to cook or have babies. And the man can love to cook or care for the children. It doesn’t matter. I can make choices just like men can. My being female does not mean I have to think or do or behave a certain way. I’m human. Just like dudes are.
So, it bothers me that having a character who is happy with those things is somehow ingrained misogyny. We have choices. Some women choose one route, some choose another.
Of course, some epilogues and babylogues do reek of old fashioned ideals. The woman who gives up a career she loved but is just as happy and fulfilled to be a baby maker. Yeah, that’s going to make me throw a book across the room, but in contemporary romance nowadays, I don’t see this much. Maybe it’s just me and the author’s I choose to read. (For instance, in Sarah Mayberry’s latest, The Other Side of Us, the heroine comes home from work to a hero who is cooking her dinner, among other gender “role reversing” that happens in this book. I loved it! But I also wouldn’t have a problem if the hero comes home to the heroine cooking if that’s what makes her happy).
Yes, there could be some societal norms and expectations inherent in the choice to make characters fulfilled by “settling down” and having a babies. Marriage and babies seems to be the pinnacle of “norm”. But I think that’s a different issue than whatever one I’m trying to poke at–that’s an issue separate from sexism. The point I’m feebly marching around is that marriage and kids aren’t just about women. Which brings me to my second point…
Romance isn’t just about the heroine. Her desire for a spouse or kids doesn’t trump the hero’s desires as well. I think good contemporary romance shows hero and heroine as equals. And, what if they both want to get married and have a family?
I came to this conclusion when I was reading an epilogue I’d written. It’s not a babylogue, but it does feature the couple from the first book getting married and the couple from the second book getting engaged. Things are tied up in a little bow where you know these four people have their HEA with marriage.
What I think working on this epilogue while thinking about babylogues did for me was open my eyes to the fact that I was having these characters get married as much for the heroes as for the heroines. The heroes had a crappy childhood with crappy parents. The love they received came from their grandparents, both of whom are dead now. The hero in book number two in particular was searching for family and love and by getting engaged at the end, HE got that.
Yes, the heroine did too, but I don’t think it was quite as profound for her. She hadn’t been searching quite so diligently for love and family because she’d been so burned by it in the past.
So the heroes are looking to make a family–not to have a wife to take care of them, but because they want to support and be supported and love and be loved. Our heroines do too. It’s a mutual decision not meant to degrade or put one person lower. I certainly didn’t marry my husband with the idea he’d somehow have power over me.
And having children was a mutual decision. Yeah, biology dictated I had to do all the hard growing and birthing a baby work, but once that baby was out, my husband and I were a team. It was something we both wanted and worked for and continue to work at.
So why does marriage and babies have to be anti-feminist? Can be-yes. Have to be? No.
I think the thing that would nip this conversation/issue in the bud would not be getting rid of the babylogue or getting rid of characters getting married at the end. I think the number one thing that would change how we feel about the babylogue would be diversity. In a weird way I think many of us are objecting not to the instance of a babylogue, but to the sameness of the babylogue. Doting parents, or a husband rubbing the happy preggo’s belly (barf), the man coming home to his “girls”. I think if we saw more babylogues where, much like the Mayberry epilogue mentioned above, things were flipped a little, there’d be less of an issue. Because it’s all about equality–not making one thing always the woman and still not flipping it so it’s always the man, but a balance.
So, I guess in the end I’m not so much pro-babylogue as I am pro-balance. I can be okay with the babylogue where the mom stays home with the kid. I can also be okay with one where the dad does. I can be okay with all the different varieties of ways people end up together or have children together because that is life.