During the Blogger Book Fair, I asked readers which topics they would like to see addressed on my blog. One asked me to discuss "advancing political agendas in romance novels." Here goes!
In one way or another, everything we write hints at our political stances. In the case of romance novels, the politics of sexuality are an obvious example: an author who includes homosexual couples automatically touches on modern politics. That is not, however, unequivocally a sign of pushing a political agenda. Neither is, for instance, addressing the issues associated with an unwanted pregnancy.
At the same time, there are those who choose to focus on furthering their political stances through their novels. Examples would be having a young woman's life disintegrate after an abortion, while pinning that disintegration only on that choice; blatantly damning couples or characters who are homosexual; or even giving characters personal vendettas in other political fora – animal rights, GMOs, etc.
While certain political topics are almost unavoidable, particularly in contemporary novels, the question isn't whether there are political agendas but rather whether one should use romance novels specifically for the purpose of furthering personal political agendas. To readers of my blog, my answer should come as no surprise: it's all about the characters.
The focus of a romance novel should not, in my opinion, be the political agenda, but rather the development of the characters and their relationship. If your characters are political, that's perfectly reasonable to include in the story. If the characters go through emotional experiences that have become the topic of political debates, and your only portrayal of the experience is with regards to a political commentary, then you are quite simply not doing your characters justice.
Abortion is a politically charged word. The decision of a woman with regards to whether or not to have and/or keep her child is personal, emotional, perhaps religious, but certainly not political with regards to her experience of it (unless she chooses to make it so, which is an entirely different shading to the experience). The same thing happens with sexuality or any other aspect of our lives.
In fact, most of our decisions relate to something being debated in a political forum. That does not make each of our decisions political unless we bring it into that forum, or someone else forces us to do so. The same way that statistics only matter on a general level – e.g. the fact that only 5% of women get raped in a certain city doesn't matter in the specific experience of a rape victim – the politics rarely figure into the personal experience of a person, i.e. a character.
As I have said with regards to other topics, it is important to have purpose behind each decision (no matter how politically charged) a character makes. Like with any other piece of information, if it does not further the story and the relationship, it should not figure in the book.
What do you think? Should political agendas be pushed through romance novels?