Whether they wear corsets or jeans, romance novel heroines have been finding their voices and battling toxic masculinity for decades. So in honor of International Women’s Day, Paste asked four Avon romance authors to write about what strong heroines look like to them.
We have a feeling that their words—and their stellar book recommendations—will spur both new and long-time genre fans to check out reads starring fierce women.
Heroines in romance novels aren’t passive vessels, waiting for salvation in the form of a hero on horseback grabbing them and riding into the sunset. Even if a heroine doesn’t practice pugilism or know how to a throw a punch, she shows her strength in knowing what she wants and how to get it without compromising herself. The hero doesn’t rescue her—through his relationship with her, he learns how to break free from the trap of toxic masculinity and live comfortably and happily with his emotions. The heroine doesn’t exist solely to serve the emotional journey of the hero. She has her own needs, wants, ambitions, and goals. More than anything, romance novels show that women have value—and that both their internal and external lives matter.
Leigh’s Book Recommendations: The heroines in Joanna Bourne’s books are prime examples of strong heroines who are capable in every capacity. Justine, in The Black Hawk, has survived through the worst circumstances to emerge as a trained agent of immeasurable skill. She’s no one’s angel. In fact, it’s the hero, Adrian, who aids Justine in healing her emotions from her traumatic past. Pick up The Black Hawk, or any of Bourne’s novels, to see women of immense strength who not only overcome villainy but also arrive at the love they deserve.
Photo Credit: Christine Rose Elle
History is filled with groundbreaking women whose names never make it into our textbooks. As we celebrate International Women’s Day and shine a spotlight on the need to press for progress on gender parity, we also pay homage to the brave women who paved our way. The two romance novels below feature powerful heroines inspired by real-life historical trailblazers.
Bell’s Book Recommendations:
The Suffragette Scandal
by Courtney Milan stars Miss Frederica “Free” Marshall as an outspoken proponent for women’s rights…and features the unexpectedly enchanting complication in cynical Edward Clark’s plans for revenge. The Duke by Katharine Ashe follows Gabriel Hume, the reclusive Devil’s Duke, as he finds more-than-a-match in adventurous equal rights activist Lady Amarantha Vale.
Photo Credit: Alexander Petrenko
To me, International Women’s Day is a day to engage in activities highlighting important issues affecting women: honoring those who have worked across the globe on women’s rights; acknowledging the continuing battle to achieve inclusive and intersectional equality; raising our voices in support of oppressed individuals and communities here and abroad; and singing the praises of badass women who inspire us daily. The romance genre provides a wealth of inspiration on these fronts. Whether a romance novel is fun and flirty, swoony and angsty, or any of the other permutations the genre has to offer, you’ll find women who fully embrace their agency (inside and outside the bedroom), celebrate themselves and other women, and challenge the status quo.
Sosa’s Book Recommendation: If you’re looking for a book that hits all of these notes, I highly recommend Tempest by USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins. In Tempest, mail-order bride Regan Carmichael charges into Wyoming Territory to meet her intended and brings her independent spirit with her. What follows is a funny, heartwarming, and sexy story with social and cultural undertones that will resonate with many of us. Through Regan’s eyes, readers see the many hardships women—and more specifically, black women—faced in a historical context, including resistance to their participation in politics. In the end, though, Jenkins treats us to a dynamic heroine who challenges the notion that there is such a thing as “a woman’s place,” and isn’t that a perfect sentiment to emphasize on International Women’s Day?
Photo Credit: Sosa Family
Strong women drive romance. The heroine’s story is always about her discovery of the real strength inside herself, whether she’s taking on the bad guys or conquering personal demons. Finding that core is what helps her stand up for herself, know that she’s worthy of love and respect just for herself, and require nothing less from her partner. Strong women find their happily-ever-afters with partners who understand that, support them, and never try to diminish them. It’s not weakness to want a loving partner; strength needs support.
Linden’s Book Recommendations:
by Eve Silver (writing as Eve Kenin) and What a Wallflower Wants by Maya Rodale.
Photo Credit: Allana Taranto/Ars Magna Studio
Special thanks to Caroline Perny for coordinating this article.