One afternoon last week I went to my mother’s house to pick something up. I had a little extra time and I was really tired, so I stretched out on the couch with a book of mine that is still on her shelves, a young adult romance I had loved in my teens.
I was never one to love romances much, but I was fascinated back then with arranged marriages and mail-order brides. That’s embarrassing for a budding feminist to admit, I have to say. I think maybe the idea of choice – even in such an important situation as marriage – was just so frightening to me at that point that I liked to fantasize about it being taken away and everything turning out alright anyway.
Be that as it may, this one was a classic Old West tale light on violence and heavy on happy endings. A young woman is saved from an unwanted arranged marriage with the local (old and ugly) banker by the requisite local hoodlums who think it would be funny to marry her off at gunpoint to a quiet rancher instead. By a device somewhat more heavy handed than a comedy of errors, she ends up stuck with this rancher and eventually falls in love, rather against her will, and lives happily ever after.
I read most of the book in one sitting and closed the book, put it back on the shelf, and for once, found myself more annoyed than romanticized. The dashing hero of egalitarian ideal I’d always seen – because the rancher hero stands up to her parents for her – had become just one more in a long line of male chauvinists. Yes, he was less so than others in the book, but he decided he liked having her around and he arranged to keep her when she only wanted to go back to her parents. Then he tried desperately to make her “fall in love” with him before she realized he couldn’t really keep her against her will. It’s all clothed in nice romantic scenes of horses, kittens and rolling around in the grass – but the motif is there, nonetheless. She didn’t know what she really wanted; he kept her captive until she realized he knew better what she wanted, and then she stayed captive of her own will – although no one of a traditional mindset would admit her staying was a willing captivity. I almost can’t believe I am.