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Women in Harlequin’s “Destiny”

This weekend, I finished reading the first book in Harlequin’s “Rogue Angel” book series, “Destiny.”  Overall, I enjoyed it, as I love stories about strong women.  I’m looking forward to reading about more of Annja Creed’s adventures.

About halfway through the book, I also came across Ana Mardoll’s Slacktiverse contribution in which she discusses the Bechdel Test.  Out of curiosity, I decided to consider how “Destiny” would fare.[1]   Besides Annja, I can readily find only one other female character in the book: a server at the restaurant Annja and Roux eat at after their first adventure together.  As it turns out, the two women have a brief conversation in which Annja verifies that her dining companion — a man — has run out, leaving her to pay the bill.  That conversation fails the test at point three.  Fortunately, Maria, the head chef in a small Cuban restaurant in New York, shows up in Chapter 19 to have a conversation with Annja.  Even though the conversation eventually turns to the young male cop Annja is about to meet, I’m willing to accept the fact that they spend about half a page talking about Annja’s time out of the country first as a sign of passing the test.  I will note, however, that it took nineteen chapters (roughly 137 pages and half the book) to not only pass the test, but to introduce the third female character.

Now, I can certainly understand why many of the other main characters are men.  It makes sense that Roux and Garin would both be men, given their backstories.  I can also understand why the monks in the story are men.  I’ll even grant that having Lesauvage be a man makes sense, given his love for the myth The Wild Hunt.[2]

However, there were a number of characters — shopkeepers, restaurant staff, security guards, and police, that were either clearly marked as men or whose gender was never indicated.  It would have been quite easy to add more characters.  For that matter, it would have been easy to have Annja have the conversation that occurs upon her return to the bed and breakfast with Camille Lambert instead of her husband, Francois.  Camille is one of the women who are mentioned in the story, but never actually get to see in action and whose voice we never hear.

Another woman who was mentioned was Bart’s girlfriend, who is not even named.  Personally, I found the mention of this girlfriend somewhat troubling, as the main purpose for mentioning her seemed to in order for Annja to feel jealous, and a rather strange sort of jealousy at that:

Annja didn’t like the little ember of jealousy inside her.  She knew she didn’t want commitment at this point in her life, but she’d iced the idea of having Bart kind of waiting in the wings.  She didn’t like how casually that had just been taken off the table.  Or how she’d made the wrong assumptions about his feelings for her.  She felt foolish.

I’m a bit disturbed by this whole depiction of Annja as someone who doesn’t really want this guy, but wants him to want her.  I will be honest that I’m particularly disturbed as the book is written by a man.[3]  As such, I find myself wondering if this is some thinly veiled “look at the games women play” misogynistic nonsense.

Even more troubling than Bart’s unnamed girlfriend and Annja’s reaction to learning of her existence is the references to Kristie Chatham, who is introduced as another woman who does segments for the show, “Chasing History’s Monsters.”  We learn quickly that Kristie has a number of outtakes (which made it on air) where her bikini fell off.  The narrator lets us know quite clearly what Annja thinks of Kristie:

For her [Kristie], history never went past her last drink and her last lover.

There you have it.  Annja not-so-secretly thinks that the other woman is nothing more than an unintellectual slut and lush.  Those are pretty harsh thoughts.

Of course, it’s not just Annja who seems to feel that way.  Whenever the show comes up, the other characters — invariably[4] men — immediately mention the “woman with the wardrobe problem,” and reassure Annja that she’s much more intelligent and sensible than that.  It seems as though Annja’s impressive intelligence and strength cannot be appreciated unless it’s compared to some other woman’s alleged failings.  That strikes me as deeply troubling.

Like I said, I liked this book.  And overall, I like the fact that it features a strong woman who can fight like a great warrior and has great intelligence and no small education.  However, that does not mean that there are not troubling aspects about this book and its portrayal of women in general and even some of Annja’s own characteristics (like her attitudes towards some other women).  I find myself concerned about the messages the book might send or reinforce.  I’d be interested to hear what my female readers think of the book (if any of you have read it) and/or my thoughts on it.

[1]  I understand that traditionally, the test is applied to movies and television shows, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be applied to books as well.  After all, books have characters (in some cases, more of them than you’re average movie) and dialogue.  So I say it’s fair game until someone gives me a good reason why it shouldn’t be.

[2]  This does not, however, explain why all of his cult members were men.  Some of them could have been women, unless Lesauvage was being intentionally portrayed as misogynistic.  However, the author made no attempt to establish that trait for that character, and I”m not inclined to just to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

[3]  A little research told me that the name that appears on the books is a house name used for the series and that this particular book was written by a man named Victor Milan.

[4]  Take that with a grain of salt.   I admit that I’ve had to revise many statements I originally made about the book as I continued to thumb through my copy to find the details I planned on using in this post.  Originally, I couldn’t remember any female characters being in the book besides Annja, just other women being mentioned by male characters.