Beyond the Romance: The Need for Better Female Stories

We need to tell females better stories than the romance. For what is a romance but a narrative trap to ensnare females by deception into dependence. Instead, we need to take charge and discover, tell, and promote  stories that depict female self-actualization (much more about this later). We simply cannot rely on publishing companies, movie producers, and made-for-TV movies to turn the tide and eschew the romance. For what sells is romance. Hollywood producers know that. The Lifetime channel executives know that. Pop culture song writers know that. Mass-market advertisers know that. And, certainly, major book publishers know that. In short, romance sells—itself and products. Romance, in a capitalist world, has become a lucrative commodity–well beyond its origins as the alternative to the bildungsroman.
I’m fascinated that science, the trusted forum for the truth, has failed to crush our romance obsession. Exactly why hasn’t science trampled today’s capitalist romance machinery? Maybe it’s because science is merely the current trend for perceiving/deceiving the truth. Give it a few more centuries, and some other discipline—old or new—will supplant its credibility—just as Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Romanticism have seen their days come and go.

However, let me comfort you that independent of all epistemological shifts, one apostolic method reigns for finding and communicating the truth.  I am imagining your faces when I declare this method: stories. The power of stories—throughout human history—lies in their potential to honestly interpret and to genuinely convey the truth as far as we can ever hope to know it.

I know that we live in a world where science reigns: I need data to prove that I can teach and I need data to prove that my students have learned. But the reality is that when a student asks, “What did we do when I was absent,” other students usually respond with stories—not a catalogue of their notes. Like them, we tell stories all day long without consciously becoming narrators. Consider these examples: When husbands ask, “How was your day,” wives tell stories. When officers ask for accident reports, drivers tell stories. When grandmothers inquire about the family, grandchildren tell stories. When congregations wait for eulogies, widows tell stories. In sum, when we confess or deny, report or amend, and praise or criticize, we tell stories.

In addition to their communication potential, stories can enervate or energize our self-fashioning. That is, we see ourselves differently because of the stories we hear and the stories we tell. Logically, we should carefully compose, interpret, and pass along stories. To lend some credibility to my cheerleading for good stories, I will begin to name drop. I recall for you Plato’s Republic, which cautions that we need to select only stories that mold individuals and their communities. Next, let’s look at several modern texts. Jim Loehr’s The Power of Story cautions that exposure to “bad stories” can damage our identity construction. Additionally, Dan P. McAdams’ Stories We Live By upholds the “narrative truth” (29) of “good” stories that we are told and tell, attempting to make sense of our fragmented and frustrating ethical lives (11, 84-85). Brian Stock concurs: we explain ourselves to ourselves as stories and through stories (Texts, Readers, and Enacted Narratives300). Carol S. Pearson assures us that we see the world through our current, self-chosen archetypes (Awakening the Heroes Within7). Such archetypes, I argue, have been rolodexing in our minds as we process story after story.

While I am not suggesting that we merely appropriate a character’s image for our own imagoe, I am contending that narrative characters serve as options for self-fashioning. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty envisions the ideal: we should model ourselves after only the most ethical characters in stories (The Identities of Persons 309). The healthiest scenario, therefore, is not that stories determine or mold who we are but that stories illuminate who we become more ethical.

An example may clarify how stories can facilitate our self-fashioning and self-fulfillment. When we struggle to exit an important role in our life, we struggle to redefine ourselves. In Becoming an Ex: The Process of Role Exit, Helen Rose Fuchs Ebaugh acknowledges that the tension involved in role exiting, which begins with first doubts, escalates into a process of seeking alternatives until the role exiter reaches a turning point for creating the ex-role. Stories can contribute to this process in two ways. First, stories can provoke our initial doubts. When we begin to identify with an unappealing character, who among us does not become agitated? I still recall the moment when I first identified with Emma Bovary. If I pay attention to my discomfort, however, I can investigate my faults. In like manner, Deborah O’Keefe observes how young women safely investigate unethical decisions and behaviors through reading stories (Good Girl Messages 204). Second, stories can inspire our alternative roles as characters suggest prescriptions. For example, we may admire Antonia Shimerda’s Stoicism and kindness, Silla Boyce’s courage and vision, Celie’s rebellion against Mr._____, and Dorothea Burke’s graciousness. These are the characters who can guide us toward new roles of personal empowerment and ethical behavior. Although Ebaugh does not intend narrative examples for the significant relationships that influence our role exiting, we can expand her analysis to story. If, as she asserts, we seek alternatives through comparisons to others’ choices and actions, we can surely find a far greater array for comparison in literature than in our limited personal relationships.

I propose that we expand the social nature of changing ourselves to incorporative narrative associations.

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One thought on “Beyond the Romance: The Need for Better Female Stories

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