Jeannie Draws Swords

I found an interesting comment on my reflection on depictions of the Asian male and sexuality on Tumblr:

This is an interesting, if not confusing, read. While I’m not familiar with Lin’s books, from the book covers she’s posted of her own work, I don’t think her plots differ very much from the typical romance story. As in, the women are very much objectified. None of them are even facing forward, or looking at the viewer. They are figures to be held or caressed but do not stand alone; there are few active verbs to describe them based on these images.

So… why am I concerning myself with the representation of men in this genre when there’s so much still to be said about the women in it?

Here’s food for thought – works in literary arenas are noted and praised for showing the inner minds and often romantic and sometimes even sexual thoughts of Asian women: Eileen Chang, Amy Tan, Lisa See, Shan Sa. Yet a genre dedicated to focusing on the inner romantic and sexual minds of women is often summarily condemned. But I do admit with envy – their books are printed on better paper, better spines, nicer cover art graced with peonies and birds. Their books are shelved in different areas of the bookstore. When you pick up the books, they feel heavier in your hands and you feel smarter for delving into them.

I do welcome criticisms of my work as works of romance and as works depicting Asian men and women. Also, as a romance author, actually as any author, I do know I will be judged in part by my covers. It is all fair game.

The operative phrase is “criticism of my work”, but since the poster admittedly hasn’t read or really has any interest in reading the books (and shouldn’t have to in any case) there is no discussion to be had.

Except for this – I am concerned about the depiction of both men and women in my writing. And just as with the men, Asian women should be depicted as romantic heroines with active inner lives and conflicts just as Western women are allowed. They should be allowed their sexuality and sexual fantasies. They should be allowed their strengths and weaknesses. I think allowing them (or really I should say us, being an Asian woman) into the romance genre strengthens our depiction — but the quandry is the same one I posed for the Asian male.

There are people who might feel that depicting Asian women in the romance genre — just for the mere fact that they are there — is demeaning. Am I really doing any service by bringing more depictions of Asian leading ladies into the romance genre? There is no way to discuss this if someone is pre-disposed to dismiss the romance genre. Other than, of course, to draw swords:


  1. Melanie Rose Meadors
    May 28, 2012 @ 08:58:38

    OK..Your heroine above is holding A BIG FRACKING SWORD. Need I say more?

    As someone who HAS read your books, and who has read romance in the past DECADE, I can attest that your heroines are not objects. In each story there is a woman who takes action for her self preservation, and there happens to be a man there–whom she discovers completes her in some way. Not only do your women know how to take care of themselves, but often they will take steps to save your hero as well!

    But most importantly, you are right–the fact that the person giving the critique has not read any of your books renders his or her arguments insignificant. Like water on a duck’s back.

  2. Jeannie Lin
    May 28, 2012 @ 13:06:30

    I think the argument that romance objectifies women — and men — is a valid one and the covers are definitely suspect. However, I think the discussion isn’t valid unless it’s being done by people who have actually read a romance or preferably many romances. And there are many readers who do look at romance with such a critical eye, but I value their opinions if they actually have some breadth or depth of knowledge of the books they are criticizing.

    But it does go to illustrate my original question. Some see the inclusion of Asian women into romance as a liberating step. Yet for others, it’s simply another example of objectification. My thoughts are maybe my portrayals are two dimensional and cliched, but 1) then let Asian heroines be fairy tale princesses with their happy endings too 2) let’s bring the argument down to the execution vs. a summary rejection of the genre.

    As to the covers — I actually don’t feel putting women with swords and guns and making them look all Lara Croft like on many UF and paranormal covers is necessarily a solution either. There could be an interesting discussion there, but as it stands, there’s nothing to engage on.

  3. Melanie Rose Meadors
    May 28, 2012 @ 14:08:40

    Especially seeing as how so often, the cover art is REALLY far removed from the plot-line of the story, I have to agree with you that it is not a solution. LOL but for someone only judging books by their covers, maybe it is! But see, there is something to be said about a woman being feminine, too. Does a woman need to be… well, if not manly, weapon wielding, to be strong? I should hope not. Women have their strengths that men do not have, and I think that should be celebrated. I LOVE the cover of your new book because I think the woman is beautiful and graceful, and having read your other books, I know the chances are she has the personality to back up her looks :). I don’t find that your characters are objects because they take action. But I know that people who do not read romance do tend to just lump it all together and have a label for it. It’s hard to fight with that mentality when people form a prejudice and don’t even bother to read the stories!