ClitLit – Women, Romance Fiction and Patriarchal Discourse

May 20, 2010

Independence is not a dirty word: Quick Shots

So I’ve picked up a romance novel for the first time in a few weeks – The Doctor’s Pregnant Bride?, a category by Susan Crosby, which I bought simply by virtue of the punctuation in the title. (Love a good question mark. Love it sick.)

Anyway, as per usual, I’m only a little way in and already I have something to deconstruct. Let me set the scene. We have our hero, Dr Ted Bonner, the socially inept and vaguely creepy (I think) doctor who works in a fertility clinic where he and his colleague (also male) try and develop a cure for male infertility. We have our heroine, Sara Beth O’Connell, head nurse at the same clinic. Don’t even get me started on the stereotypical men are doctors/women are nurses thing going on here. We go on.

Anyway, Sara Beth is assigned to work with Ted, and they’re all, ‘hi, I’ve vaguely seen you in the distance BUT OMG WE CAN’T DATE COWORKERS THAT WOULD BE BAD’ in their minds. Sara Beth leaves and Ted chases after her, and we get this gem of an exchange. (FYI, it’s Valentine’s Day the first day they meet. Foreshadowing? I WONDER.)

‘He just nodded. “I’m supposed to be at my parents’ house in forty-five minutes for dinner. I need to take a gift.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to find roses at almost any market.”

“And my mother would say ‘how lovely’ and that would be that. I want to do better than that. I want you to be my parents’ gift.”‘

Crosby, S., 2010, The Doctor’s Pregnant Bride? [Harlequin] p.24

I had a few glasses of wine when I read this sentence, and for one nanosecond, I actually thought he wanted to physically give her to his parents like a slave or something. But no, it’s the whole bemyfakegirlfriendplz! scenario. Which no one in their right mind would go along with because hey, it’s totally weird! But no, it is OMG romantic.

But this isn’t what’s bothering me, though why Sara Beth feels the need to say yes to the fake girlfriend proposal is beyond me. No, the moment when I rolled my eyes and picked up my laptop to document it was this.

To set the scene: the night before, Ted had been talking to Sara Beth on the phone while she was walking home. He made sure to keep her on the phone until she was safely inside. Sara Beth mulls on this:

‘Her last boyfriend, a six month relationship that had ended a couple of months ago, would never have kept her on the phone until she was safely inside her house. He’d always “respected her independence”, as he’d put it – perhaps because she’d made sure he knew her independence was something she prided herself on.

But after last night she’d altered her thinking a little. Being independent didn’t mean she couldn’t let a man be considerate.’

Crosby, S., 2010, The Doctor’s Pregnant Bride? [Harlequin] p.57

Oh for f^&*s sake.

Sara Beth, go back to your old boyfriend. Newsflash, sister – it sounds like he didn’t treat you like a total dishrag incapable of doing anything for herself.

Sure, maybe it was nice of Ted to make sure Sara Beth got home safely. But why should she not do the same thing for him? This seems to me to be tied into the concept of chivalry, which is one I find deeply problematic. The term chivalry has come to signify a code of behaviours wherein men do things for women which are considered ‘courteous’ – effectively implying women are too weak and frail to do them themselves. Because women are too weak to open doors and put on their own jackets, for example.

It was also, I understand, originally a code of honour for men. You could prove your own honour by defending the honour of women. ‘Honour’ is basically analogous to ‘virginity’ here, when it all comes down to it. And you know how I feel about this.

Anyway, I digress. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t have a problem with Ted’s action as it stands – it’s a considerate thing, to make sure someone gets home safe. What I dislike is that the action is clearly gendered and also Sara Beth’s reaction to it. Why is this act of human decency somehow encroaching on her independence? And why does she suddenly like it?

It sounds like her old boyfriend treated her pretty well, if he ‘respected her independence’. It sounds to me like he treated her like an actual human person instead of a frail wisp who could be blown over by the slightest breath of wind. During the actual phone call, Sara Beth muses that Ted is ‘watching over her’. Why, Sara Beth, do you feel you need to be watched? Because you know what that says to me?

Crazy stalker man.



  1. If she hadn’t got home safely, what was he going to do about it? Was he close enough to run to her assistance? If he is, then why doesn’t he just walk her to her front door? If he’s not close by, the whole thing is even stranger because it seems pretty useless as a method of ensuring her safety. In addition, if there was any danger lurking, would being on the phone really help someone remain (a) alert to danger and (b) silent and inconspicuous?

    If him being on the phone isn’t actually helpful, and might even increase her danger, then all the phone call achieves is to give him the knowledge that she’s reached her house. In other words, it reassures him rather than providing her with any benefit. That could mean that he cares about her and wants to know she’s arrived safely, but as you point out, it could seem a bit stalkerish/controlling.

    Comment by Laura Vivanco — May 20, 2010 @ 10:27 am | Reply

  2. As far as I could tell, he was nowhere near her. She was coming back from a dinner with her mother. He didn’t call specifically to ensure she got home safely, but once he realised she was walking, he basically ordered her to stay on the line.

    Like you said, if she suddenly had been, I don’t know, mugged or something, he could have done a grand total of nothing. It ties into that whole man-as-guardian-angel mentality thing which suggests that women really can’t take care of themselves – and by tying it to the concept of ‘independence’, I think this book solidifies it in a really troubling way.

    That said, I’ve finished the book now, and Ted totally backed off on the stalking, though there was a facepalm moment when he tried to talk about something with her mother because ‘Sara Beth is hurting’.

    Comment by Jodi — May 20, 2010 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

  3. The “old-fashioned chivalry/true gentleman/cowboy” aspect of some romances is not for me, but it’s clear that for some the fantasy of being taken care of is important – it wouldn’t be so common a fantasy, otherwise. I also don’t think that everyone who likes that fantasy wants it to be true in real life. (I’m sure some DO want it to be true in real life, as well.)

    I believe that it’s getting harder to portray the chivalry fantasy in contemporaries, because women are more conscious of it and its flaws – in historicals, or paranormals, I think it will hold on a little longer, because there you can embed certain gender roles in the worldbuilding. I’ve often wondered if part of the popularity of paranormals is related to a downswing in readers’ ability to believe in an “alpha male” hero in a contemporary.

    Comment by Victoria Janssen — May 20, 2010 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keira, Jodi. Jodi said: New on ClitLit: Independence is not a dirty word […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Independence is not a dirty word: Quick Shots « ClitLit – Women, Romance Fiction and Patriarchal Discourse -- — May 21, 2010 @ 4:41 am | Reply

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