by Lana Hart
I’m sure most of us remember the old Harlequin romance novel covers. The formula was a pretty basic one: a guy and a girl in a “clinch” pose, where the obviously muscular, alpha male gripped the woman with desperation while she reclined submissively in his arms, nearly swooning in the face of his passion.
There was nothing inherently wrong with these covers. Romance, after all, is largely about embracing a fantasy—but they were indicative of the type of story one might find within.
For a long time, romance was lambasted as a genre, particularly by intellectuals or feminists who remarked on the lack of agency displayed by many of the female protagonists. These women wanted nothing more than their man, or if they did have an ulterior motive, it vanished once the male love interest was obtained. The women took largely passive roles in the story, allowing the man to make decisions and affect change upon the world while they were merely witnesses to that change.
In short, they were the objects of the story while the men were portrayed as the subjects.
Of course, this was not true of all romance novels, but it was a prevalent trend particularly in the eighties, nineties, and even throughout the early twenty-first century.
But something has changed. Many romance covers have moved on to a new formula, one that was decried in the late eighties as “something no woman wants to see.”
The unthinkable has happened: romance novels now feature women alone on their covers.
Sarah Painter’s The Secrets of Ghosts, for example—a novel which has held a spot in the top 100 romance category on Amazon.com—has a woman’s back turned to us as she zips up her dress. Patricia Briggs’ Bone Crossed cover has a woman with tattoos and a tool belt striding through a junkyard with no man in sight. The cover of Bella Forrest’s A Shade of Vampire is dominated by a lone woman in a flowing white dress staring almost defiantly at the reader.