This is of interest to me because it conflicts entirely with the most obvious trends in women's fiction and romance which are essentially women's fantasies written by women, for women, and consumed by a overwhelmingly female audience. If you are at all familiar with romance novels, you will have noticed that in the past decade the heroes of these novels have not been written as more androgynous, but instead hyper-masculine. Readers have gobbled up Navy SEAL books by Suzanne Brockmann and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. The men these authors write aren't just strong and manly, they meet an unbelievably high standard of macho, and in some cases simply can't be killed or suffer harm. They could render their heroines harmless (or dead) with their pinky fingers if they so desired. Physically, experientially, and frequently financially, they are their heroines' superiors in every way.
Eve Dallas mystery series written by Nora Roberts (writing under the pseudonym J.D. Robb) and set in the future.* The latest book is #38. Roberts's hero, Roarke, is highly alpha. Here is the wikipedia description:
"Roarke is in his mid-thirties; he is an immigrant from Dublin, Ireland; in NYC, he is the CEO of Roarke Industries, and one of the richest men in the world, possibly the richest. He owns an old mansion off of Central Park that he remodeled to his specifications with very high tech security. Also in the home is his own personal collection of firearms, which are illegal in 2058 unless one possesses a collector's license. Roarke also owns maces, swords, daggers, medieval armor, and other assorted weapons. He is quite skilled in electronics and can dismantle any type of security, lock, or coding, as well as hacking into any electronic database—including but not limited to the FBI, Interpol, and Homeland Security.Eve, the series' heroine, is a tough cop, fiercely committed to her job and to finding justice for victims of crime. She is damaged emotionally from a childhood filled with extreme abuse. She is not beautiful, and can be brusque and distant. She doesn't like dealing with children and eschews feminine behavior as weakness. Before Roarke her relationships with men were limited to one-night stands.
He convinces Eve to move in with him in Glory in Death and then proposes at the end of the book. Roarke's house officially becomes a home once Eve moves in, and after this, Roarke is happiest at home rather than traveling. He also enjoys helping Eve with her cases, finding the role reversal quite entertaining." [My emphasis.]
So basically she's a guy. Nearly all of her behaviors are traditionally male. But notice that in this fantasy, Eve's romantic partner is not more androgynous. He's not at home taking care of the kids she's uncomfortable around and making dinner for her to eat when she comes home tired from fighting crime. Oh no. He's the unimaginably wealthy, hyper-alpha former criminal who parleyed his knowledge to become the richest man in the world.
And in 2058 the richest man in the world, the man who can have literally anything on the planet, wants a mannish, emotionally damaged, average looking thirty-year-old woman who is obsessed with her job. In fact he finds the role reversal quite entertaining.
The Flame and the Flower kickstarted the modern romance genre, moving it from the tamer very subtly sexy Mills and Boone/Harlequin short novels to historicals with longer longer word counts and love scenes. It was wildly popular, but its heroine was about as different from Eve Dallas as can be. Heather was a beautiful English virgin, 18, who met her hero (Brandon, an American ship captain and plantation owner) under inauspicious circumstances when he mistook her for a prostitute and raped her. When she becomes pregnant, her relatives force him to marry her and her takes her with him to South Carolina. Hijinks ensue. What is interesting about The Flame and Flower, especially in comparison with the above, is that while the details of their meeting are fantastic, their pairing is actually pretty uncontroversial. Brandon is wealthy, handsome, and very alpha, but it is not outside the realm of possibility for him to marry a young, very beautiful English girl of good birth. Also notable is Heather's extreme submissiveness. She is 18 years younger than her husband and still quite childlike. Also interesting: one of the villains who who makes mischief for Heather and Brandon is an older woman, still handsome, but not in the first blush of youth. She is sexually experienced and adventurous and wants Brandon for herself, but he is not interested even though she owns a nearby plantation and the alliance would be perhaps financially beneficial. No, Brandon has eyes only for the lovely, innocent, docile Heather.
Remember: scores of women ate this up in 1972 and the book is still in print.
As time passed, however, romance novels changed. Heroines began to have premarital sex that wasn't rape or coerced, and love scenes got longer and more detailed. Heroines were written as older and more worldly, smarter. They had careers, they smoked and drank, and the age difference between them and their lovers shrank. Readers made it clear that they did not want to read about the love lives of teenagers who had yet to experience life. They wanted sexually experienced heroines and ones that were tough and successful on their own merits - heroines who were, in other words, more like the readers themselves.
Also, while the heroes stayed handsome and rich and alpha - getting richer and more ripped and super alpha in some sub-genres - the heroines got less beautiful, significantly less beautiful than Heather, and older. The fantasy was no longer just finding an alpha to love, but became snagging one so far out of your league as to be conspicuous. In the Navy SEAL books Suzanne Brockmann writes the heroes are supermen, and the heroines are, at best, pretty, and frequently have physical trouble spots or figure flaws. Often they are older than the men they snag. In Twilight Edward is physically stunning, a perfect looking man. Bella is nothing special. Literally nothing special. Ordinary. Yet he pines for her. In the 2010 version of The Flame and the Flower, the villainess would be the heroine, and Heather would be a murder victim or perhaps a secondary character. There is no room for very young, very beautiful, docile virgin heroines in romance novels today. They do not exist.
So the romance novel changes, reflecting women more truthfully and men more fantastically. The gulf in status and desirability may widen further even because - as the genre makes clear - women don't desire feminine men. Bad news for all those men who take the advice of Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil and "Man up!" Chicks don't dig other chicks. Unless they're lesbians. And lesbians aren't who most men are trying to attract. All of which means men who take that advice can expect to be less successful to the women whose feminist dreams and aspirations they further with their modified domestic and career choices. Win-win. Er, wait. No.
*I did not select this series randomly. Roberts is a prolific writer and publishes at least one addition to the In Death series annually, and readers regularly vote for Eve and Roarke as favorite heroine, favorite hero, and favorite couple in the All About Romance annual poll. They are long established characters, but often win or place.