There’s been a conversation going on about ‘real men’ vs. ‘romance men’. It’s been taking place on one of the lists I belong to and frankly it’s been fascinating. The opinions seem to be divided between women who don’t think romance men exist and the ones who believe that they do. This whole conversation began when someone asked about romance heroes having chest hair. If you look at all the romance covers with heroes on them, the one thing that should stand out is that NONE of them have hair on their chests. Obviously this is because they’re trying to show off their muscles, but the conversation quickly turned into ‘real’ vs. fantasy.
It made me wonder what readers think of fiction men vs. real men. I’ve never been one of those women who was grossed out by chest hair. I don’t think I’ve actually given it a whole lot of thought one way or the other. I think I look at men on an individual basis. They can have chest hair or not. They can have hair on their heads or not. I don’t think hair anywhere makes a man. It’s behavior.
As a writer, I’m given the option of how realistic (and I use that word loosely) I want my heroes to be. I tend to make them larger than life because I’m trying to entertain. The writers on the loop were convinced that readers don’t want ‘realistic men’ in their books. They get them in real life and want escapism instead. Some of the examples they brought up were: sitting on the couch in their underwear, belching, farting, potbellies, not helping around the house, etc. I suppose that is true of some men, but certainly not all. There are many types of men (just like there are many types of women). I personally think readers would welcome variety in romance novels, but the authors are not convinced.
Reading their responses, one thing struck me. A lot of what the authors ascribed to real men were in fact traits of ‘boys’, not men. I think that’s where the true split lies. Someone I dated a long time ago used to tell me that what I wanted in a relationship was unrealistic and blamed my romance reading habits for my unrealistic expectations. I’m the first to admit that I have HIGH expectations when it comes to relationships and men, but I was ‘convinced’ that I could get what I wanted because I wasn’t looking for perfection. I had a very specific list of things that I wanted in a relationship/a man and that list did not include a single physical trait. I think in order for women to find their ‘heroes’ they have to know what they’re looking for. Handsome, blond-haired adonis is not something to look for in a man (or a woman). If your criteria is that ‘shallow’, then don’t be surprised when the relationship doesn’t meet your expectations. Hair or no hair shouldn’t factor into it.
I have without a doubt married a ‘romance hero’, but he wouldn’t fit in with any of the guys on those book covers. He’s not about to spend three to five hours at the gym everyday. He doesn’t have time. He has a
life job. His priorities do not revolve around his body, even though he exercises and cares about his appearance. He’s frighteningly intelligent and has a sharp wit, which he uses to make me laugh every single day. I honestly could not ask for anything more nor would I, if given the chance. Does he slay dragons or fight off werewolves? No. Could he? Oh yeah. 🙂 That’s what makes him a genuine ‘hero’ in my eyes.
What do you think? Do readers want realistic heroes or do they want the fantasy? Why? Do you think romance novels skew women’s views on relationships? On men? Do they hurt or do they help?