Does size matter? On short men in romance novels
It seems that more than any other genre romance is, ahem, big on measurements. I am, of course, talking about height. (What did you think I was talking about?)
In every romance novel I've read of late the hero's height has been explicitly described, and curiously, I haven't yet come across a hero shorter than 6'2”. This got me thinking about the way that masculinity is represented in romance novels, and of the relatively narrow way that male attractiveness is defined.
While romance heroines are afforded a little more variability in terms of height and body shape (although they tend to cluster around very petite and very tall and at lithe or curvy, without much in between), heroes have far less flexibility afforded them. From my romance reading, the prototypical hero is, well, basically a giant.
One possibility is that men don't tend to receive the descriptive nuance that women do: where a writer might describe a woman's dress sense, her hair, makeup, comportment and so on, fewer descriptive phrases tend to be applied to men. And of those, hair and eye colour and overall physique are probably the most salient.
I do wonder, however, whether it's because heroes tend to fall into the brooding alpha male category, and having a powerful physique complements the other elements of the alpha male personality. After all, size can readily be correlated with perceived strength and power: we've all probably read the research showing that taller men tend to earn more than their shorter counterparts.
Still, what's interesting here is not just that heroes tend to be so tall, but that this height has to be explicitly stated. As noted above, heroines tend to be described in terms of petite or tall rather than a specific height, and yet, male heroes are very rarely described in comparative terms. Height, then, seems in romance novels to be a sort of attractiveness currency: it's almost as though height is the new salary. (“You must be this tall to ride”, perhaps?).
There's definitely a perception that a hero who doesn't meet a particular height threshold is somehow unmasculine, and I wonder whether that height threshold is increasing in line with the independence and equality of heroines. In a world where women are closing the gap in terms of education and career success, and where gender roles are being rewritten, perhaps writers are using physicality as a proxy for masculinity.
What do you think? Why do you think that romance heroes are so tall, and has this changed over time?
Stephanie Campisi is a middle grade author and book reviewer (http://www.readinasinglesitting.com).
Her novel Spatterbaum and Zitherbother is currently on submission.
You can sign up here (http://www.spatterbaumandzitherbother.com) to be alerted when it's published.
Stephanie is extremely petite, and is married to a man who by romance novel standards would also be considered petite. She doesn't mind at all.
Read in a Single Sitting
Subscribe via Google Reader
Twitter | Facebook