Sep 5 2012 8:21am

Why Do Readers Like Reading About Doormats?

Beyond any specific opinion (as in, it's not my taste), the fact remains that the current hot trend in romance fiction is women dominated by powerful men who dictate what the women do in all aspects of their lives.

Why? Why do you think the dominating male/doormat female is so appealing to so many readers? Please share your theories in comments!

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K.M. Jackson
1. kwanawrites
I'm not a fan of the doormat heroine. Ana's character is what annoyed me in Fifty. I like my heroines with a little/a lot of backbone. I'd like liker her to give as good as she gets.
2. Torifl
I think it's the alpha male who will do whatever it take to make his woman happy is the appeal. The fact that someone could love you that uch that they can anticipate what you want or need at all times. While I enjoy the practice in theory (and fiction), I know in real life I would not be permissive of this attutude from any partner of mine. Of course, I am a dominant personality myself and it's almost inconcivable that I would allow anyone that much power or control over my life. I find it hard to understand anyone who is a submissive because regardless of what I know and have learned, I still equate submissivness with weakness even though I know that is wrong.
3. Shelly Ellis
I'm actually more of a fan of the "sparring romances." The couples that can go toe-to-toe and have it out and make love in the end. Not have it out in a violent way, but with wit and passion. In contrast, I think the appeal for people who like the dominant male is not only that he's dominant but that he's a rescuer. He's the alpha who takes charge romantically, financially, and sometimes psychologically (a la Shades of Grey). But I always found those guys to have deeply seated insecurities that, in the end, make them very unappealling. (I'm not a fan of falling in love with head cases. That got old back in college.) The same for the submissive heroine who CONSTANTLY is getting rescued... she can just lead me to frustration. I can't root for her when I don't respect her.
4. DS
I didn't realize it was such a huge thing because I see far more people complaining about dormat female characters than not. On the other hand, I see a lot of people complain if the male doesn't come off as being alpha enough so maybe there's some of that complaining impacting the "doormat" female character drive.

I like strong women who aren't constantly trying to prove they're strong. Those are the characters that I know are smart, can take care of themselves and make decisions for themselves, but at the same time doesn't have trouble asking for help when they need it. I haven't read Fifty Shades so I don't know about the characters, but in the BDSM lifestyle I think one has to be submissive while the other dominant. I don't think two doms would work in that relationship.
5. Mo
There is a certain freedom in not having to think for yourself. It's not a freedom I personally espouse, but it does exist. It's hard and a struggle to be assertive, always in control, always the one making things happen. It takes time, energy, effort. Sometimes it's nice not having to put all that energy and effort into things and let someone else take the lead. It takes the pressure off. Irl, women take care of everyone else: work, husband, kids, house or at least that's the "type". Not having to deal with all that and letting someone else do it could be a nice escapist fantasy.
Carmen Pinzon
6. bungluna
I think it's safe to have an uber-alpha in fiction who will take care of all your problems, know what you need before you do and lift the burden of choice from your shouldes, while being assured by the author that he will not cross the line into abusive jerk territory. In real life, many fans would not be happy with this type of male in their lives, but it's safe to read about it.

Since I don't use the heroines as placeholders for myself, I don't enjoy any fiction that portrays characters whose actions I don't like/understand. But this may be the reason why a lot of readers, especialy high-powered profesionals, are gravitating towards these stories.
7. Seleste deLaney
To me, this is a more complex question than it appears at face value. For starters, there is a wide range between submissive and doormat (for specific examples, please take Nora Sutherlin from Tiffany Reisz's The Siren versus Ana Steele from 50 Shades.) So, because of that, I'm going to attack both extremes.

We're at an interesting time in history. Women are expected to do it all: a career, a spouse, kids, a clean house, a full social life... yet when you look at the government, in many ways, we haven't moved very far from when women were barely more than property. We have to make all these decisions but can often feel like in the grand scheme of things they don't matter much. So, from that, the desire to want someone else to take charge can be very appealing (whether it's in all aspects of a woman's life or only some). At the same time, not all women truly want to give up that kind of control in their real life, so they turn to fiction. (This is not something that is only true in this circumstance. I, for one, also turn to fiction for a great number of other experiences I don't necessarily want to or get to have in my life.)

With that in mind, I can understand (even if I don't share) the appreciation for doormats. You have a woman who is willing to give up all the decision-making, essentially everything that makes her a strong-modern-woman. If done well, that surrender is in itself a type of strength (if done poorly, it can make readers want to kill said heroine.)

But as for heroines who submit in certain ways but not others, I can totally appreciate that, and I don't think it necessarily makes the character/woman weak. It is her making a choice to say "I need/want/whatever to relinquish control over this part of my life." That is strength at least as much as having a chokehold on every aspect of life is.

If you think about it, no one gets upset about the philandering hero giving up his wicked ways for the heroine. We say he's giving it up for love and isn't it romantic and all sorts of wonderful things. But when a heroine gives up control (sexually or otherwise), we cringe because we have it so drilled into our heads that we have to be All The Things All The Time.

Well-written characters, regardless of what molds they do or don't fit, aren't weak. They may simply show strength in different ways than we've come to expect.
Lege Artis
8. LegeArtis
Hmm, if I understood correctly, this " hot trend" is aspired by The Book That Shall Not Be Named and its clones.
But I don't think that readers fascination was ever with our dormat heroine in those. It was because of heroes-they all have this angsty, troubled, dark nature and books are completely about them. There lies fascination. Heroine character is made dormat in sake of showing how flawed our Majesty hero is. That's just my opinion.
Dormat person who only wants to please his/her partner is jet another way of people can find themselves in realtionship, one more way people behave when they're in love. So if writer can pull good story with that, why not? I'll read it.
9. Mo
I think Seleste said what I was trying to say in a much, much better way. Thank you, Seleste. My use of the word "type" is open to interpretation. What I meant was that in many ways irl, women are expected to be all these things and it has become a stereotype. It isn't true for all women, obviously. Moreoever, I am *not* saying that those women would automatically be attracted to that type of story. Sorry, I should have clarified that before I posted earlier.

I also think that there is a bit of wiggle room in the term doormat. For me, that tends to mean a very specifically defined kind of person, one who is walked all over. Making a choice to be submissive is not being walked all over. That is a choice a person makes. A doormat doesn't consciously choose to be walked all over, but often is from naivete or kindness or some such thing.

I also agree with LegeArtis that a lot of this is not a reaction or appreciation of the doormat, but a preference for male protags in these books.

For my part, and only slightly OT, I have noticed a very very strong trend toward male dominated romance, especially in the pnr subgenre. The stories are often about groups of men finding their "forever women" and focused on that, not groups of women finding their "forever men". I think that is kind of key to this, personally. The stories are about the men.
10. Seleste deLaney
That's an interesting point that the stories are about the men. Maybe that's why I liked The Siren so much was that it was about Nora. (Also, I tend to write things that are more about the women, whether or not it has to do with their "forever man.")
Lege Artis
11. LegeArtis
@Seleste- Exactly. Everyone can tell you who Christian Grey or Gideon Cross is, but Anastasia Steele....? Not so much. The Siren is whole different category. It's focused on Nora, but other characters are just as captivating- Wesley, Michael and Dom of all Doms- Soren. The Siren is amazing. I left me thinking for days after I read it... Can't wait for The Angel.
Mara Gillott
12. MaraGillott
I think Seleste said it beautifully.

I see it much the same way. Women are expect to be and do so much in life. Take care of kids, take care of the home, work, cook, and that's just the short list. I think the appeal of the dominant male/submissive female story line (doormat romance) is simply that women just want to not have to worry about anything at all and surrender some of the control they are forced to take on. To give it all up, to chose to not have to think about things. As a mom of 2, blogger, Virtual Assistant, Wife, etc., I am slammed on a daily basis, I'd love to give over some power to my husband in a similar situation.

Now, here is my real appeal. I LOVE dysfunctional romances. They romances you root for but know you should wish that they don't end up working out. I cheered for Ana Steele when she walked out the door, but my heart broke for Christian despite the situation. Romance doesn't always need to be "Hearts and Flowers" and to see the dysfunction feels real to me. I feel myself pulled more towards these books over the books where the authors invent a BS reason why two characters can't/shouldn't be together. To me, they feel very real and honest and while even abusive, it happens in the real world. So many people live something similar, I being one of them (in the past) and sometimes the perfect romance novel where the drama feels faked and forced. I personally would rather see characters beating the crap out of each other (for any number of reasons) only to end up engrossed in passion moments later than see them cuddling on the couch and some female character get all huffy over something ridiculous and storm out making it a bigger deal that it needs to be. Perhaps it's just my temperment?

I'm not going to coin myself as a writer. I do it for my own enjoyment right now, but dysfunctional romance is a big theme in my stories and perhaps that's why the doormat romance doesn't bother me so much.

My issues with 50 Shades was not the relationship, the almost abusive nature of the book but mostly the writing style. Repeative, Soft in the sex names compared to nature of acts, name-dropping (blackberry, ipad, the music, wine, hotel, etc.), and overall just the mashing of so many things together to make it work for the sake of the story (Leila, Jack, etc) There are many things I would have prefered to see written differently, but I don't have a hate for the books.
Mara Gillott
13. MaraGillott
Apparently I'm really bad at proofreading today! Sorry for typos and errors!
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