Thursday, November 17, 2011

Helpless Heroines

After hearing this Brad Paisley song on the radio multiple times, I got annoyed enough to rant about it:

Little Moments

"I live for little moments like that" sounds like a tender sentiment. The intended point of the song seems to be that "little imperfections" make the beloved person human and therefore more interesting. Perfection would be "boring." Nothing unsound in itself about those statements. But the lyrics come across to me as showing something different from what they're telling.

What does the narrator of the ballad actually show us? His wife or significant other dents his truck, burns the birthday cake, and gets them lost by misreading directions. In short, he sees her as an incompetent klutz. He doesn't portray himself as loving her in SPITE of those mishaps. Regardless of what the last verse claims, the overall impression isn’t that he sees her flaws as incidental quirks that are endearing because they’re part of her personality. "I LIVE for little moments like that"—as far as the action depicted in the song demonstrates, he loves her BECAUSE she's incompetent. And this is supposed to be romantic? Nowadays if a romance novelist created a heroine whose main attraction was helplessness, most readers would throw the book at the wall.

I'm reminded of the Japanese concept of "moe":


A moe character in manga or anime appeals to audiences by her or his (usually her) cuteness arising from an air of immaturity and a need to be protected. It seems unlikely to me that a country music star's work would be overtly influenced by Japanese popular culture. So does some segment of American popular culture still cherish the mindset of songs such as the tearjerker "Honey," from my teen years, in which the narrator fondly recalls how cute it was when his now-deceased young bride wrecked his car?

Of course it feels good to be able to protect and take care of the loved one. And it feels good to be taken care of sometimes, too. In modern romance, however, whether in fiction or other media, shouldn't we have grown past accepting a scenario where all the taking-care-of goes in one direction, infantilizing one partner (usually the female one)?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. I agree that romance should involve more balance in care-taking. Maybe this is why I have tended to shy away from it. With alien and paranormal romances, it would seem the time is right to bring in more balance, but currently I'm seeing a lot of tattooed, black-leather females who are so bad-ass that they almost make the men superfluous (except for sex, which sometimes takes over a book). When will the pendulum swing back?

  2. Robyn:

    I agree - but what Margaret who wrote this post and I and the others here are doing is swinging that darned pendulum

  3. It later occurred to me that the "helpless is cute" motif isn't new. Think of Dora, David Copperfield's first wife. She's a child bride who can't do anything right, but she is supposed to be adorable. Admittedly, even David shows some signs of irritation with her now and then, but he is still in love with her and mourns her death. I can't be the only reader who was glad to see her go.