Motorcycle Monday

MC Romance: All the Single (Old) Ladies

This is the segment I’ve mulled over the most since I started reading MC smut. After reading a few of these books, I definitely had certain impressions of the heroines, but breaking down the data after reading a lot of these books and tracking them was…informative. I also got a better read on why I liked the ones I liked after I charted all of this out. 

So let’s get down to business: MC smut heroines.

In biker romance, there tend to be clear cultural delineations that are evident primarily where the women are concerned. In the first place, there’s club culture and civilian culture, and because the heroes in these books are members of the club, civilian culture as it exists is mostly something that needs to be trained out of the old-lady-in-training heroine of the book. 

So let’s break it down. There are essentially three types of women represented in these books. The first breakdown is old ladies (of which group the heroine is always a member) and club women (they have a lot of other unflattering names, but they’re the women who aren’t old ladies who provide sex to the club – always because they want to, of course). The next breakdown is among the heroines, who are either part of the MC lifestyle or they’re civilians. 

Heroines who are civilians fall for the hero almost against their will, because they know that the “MC lifestyle” is totally wack, and they need to be trained in the ways of the MC. These are the more common heroines. (Note: When I was tracking heroine origin, I included children/sisters of MC members who met their dads/brothers as adults in the citizens category, since they effectively were citizens, even though their relatives were MC members.) The other heroines are the women who were already in the club life and therefore do not require the training. Conflicts for these heroines tend to be more like forbidden relationship romances because the external culture conflict doesn’t exist (unless it’s rival MC romance like Devil’s Game by Joanna Wylde). 

Before we get into the civilian heroine business, a brief discussion of the heroines steeped in the MC lifestyle: These heroines tend to be badass bitches. Maybe they were brought up in a club (most common) or maybe they were already someone else’s old lady and now they’re widowed. Either way, they understand the rules and the role of women in the club. That is to say, they understand that they do not press about club business or insert themselves where they’re not supposed to go (mostly), but they were probably also raised with some kind of education in fighting and shooting (please see Ravage Me by Michele Ryan), so they’re much more capable of dealing with adverse situations that cause the civilian heroines to do stupid things, like make unbelievble deals with cartels (I got so angry when this happened in Reaper’s Stand by Joanna Wylde, I texted Holly and Ingrid to rant). 

Heroines raised in the club also wouldn’t object to being called property because they’ve been raised with the understanding that being a man’s property is meaningful-not-in-a-bad-way. (Property is a whole thing…I’ll probably get to it next week when we talk about the relationships.)

But, as you can see above, the majority of heroines are not originating from the club. I also considered the kind of job (or lack thereof) the heroine had, and what kind of financial vulnerability that might create for her. There is a variety, for sure, but while there are some doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs among our heroines, more than 50% of the heroines are either unemployed, employed by the MC, or they have low-wage, hourly type jobs, the majority of which are waitressing or bartending. This means that most heroines are dependent on the club or the hero for their living, or if they’re not, they’re vulnerable to living paycheck-to-paycheck.

I didn’t end up breaking down my charts by vulnerability levels AND origins (or by vulnerability level AND origins AND age), but when I saw my suspicions confirmed that most of the heroines were in a life with some level of financial vulnerability, some things started pulling together for me. When I did start looking at the age of the heroines in the mix, things started pulling together more: 

It’s really no surprise that most of these heroines are in their 20s, since that’s a popular age in general for heroines, but the majority being in their early 20s plus the financial vulnerability is…a thing. Dukes rushing in to the rescue of their young ladies is not all that different from biker dudes rushing to the rescue of their biker babes, but one might not be quite able to rub off the patina of predatory on some of these relationships when the heroines are so young and so undeniably vulnerable, especially when we plug in the bad boy hero element and the desire so many women have to be the one to tame the bad boy. (I will say that there aren’t a lot of age gap romances in this bunch, the notable exceptions being books in the Undeniable series by Madeline Sheehan which, as I believe I have mentioned, is seriously effed up.)

It shouldn’t come as a shock that the older heroines tend to be the ones who have more established careers. They own their own homes. They have advanced degrees. These are the heroines who are doctors and lawyers. It shouldn’t come as a shock because older women typically do have more established careers, having been part of the job market, gaining professional experience, longer than women in their 20s. But given that the majority of the heroines in these books are young and also the majority of these heroines are vulnerable, there’s definitely a “HE SAVED ME!” narrative going on a lot. Which, I suppose, is what one expects of scary, bossy biker dudes.

Primary takeaway: Young and financially vulnerable citizen heroines are being absorbed into club life. Hmm.

So, I also mentioned that there’s a difference between heroines and, erm, club tail. My primary takeaway in this area is related to sex, monogamy, and cheating, which is something we can discuss when we discuss relationships and sex. My secondary takeaway, however, is that these books, much more than any other romances I’ve read, tend to involve throwdowns between women who SELF-CATEGORIZE by class – club women obviously being a lower class than old ladies. 

Even though all of the sex is (supposed to be) consensual, and there really shouldn’t be anything wrong with consenting adults responsibly having sex when they want to, many of these heroines end up throwing down with club women to stake their claim on the hero. 

Now, some of this is about demonstrating that, whatever else has happened in the past, the heroine is also a scary, badass biker babe, worthy of being on the back of her scary, badass biker dude’s bike. But also these interactions tell us something about trust between the protagonists (which is a relationship issue), and they create conflicts between women when the issue is not the relationship between the women but the relationships the women in question both (or all) have with the man in question. And yet the women are the ones having catfights over a man, who is theoretically already dedicated to his woman, so it’s really just catty. And it really delineates that there are certain kinds of women who are okay (the women who are good enough to be old ladies) and who are not okay (the women who spread their legs for any guy in the club) (which is a sex issue). 

Primary takeaway: While old ladies might form a sisterhood, overall, relationships among women associated with the club are problematic.

And, finally, this one is also absolutely not universal, but the majority of heroines in MC smut fall into stereotypical gender roles of cooking and cleaning. The club women tend to be responsible for cooking and cleaning in the clubhouse, and when heroines become old ladies, they cook and/or clean. Certain authors play with this a little bit, especially if the relationship is allowed to play out beyond simply the protagonists addressing the big problem or threat, but overall there is a definite theme of Action Man and Provider, Woman in the Home and Mother, and all of the traditional roles assigned by those labels. 

As I said when we began, this was the segment I mulled over the most, and it’s probably the one I find the most interesting to evaluate on a big scale. What do these characterizations say about this type of romance? What is appealing about these women? What resonates with readers? What is problematic about these characterizations and does it matter? What is the author trying to say about the strength of these women? It’s easy to write off a single heroine in a single book, but when we look at MC smut overall, the characterization of the heroines is telling, and it is extremely divergent from what we see in modern contemporary romance, which features significantly different characterizations of heroines and those heroines’ relationships with the women around them. I have many thoughts about enjoying romance with problematic content, but that’s probably a ramble for a different post. 

For this, now you have an idea of what kinds of heroines you’ll be likely to find if you pick up some MC smut. Next week we can put the men and the women together and talk about these MC smut relationships!

Previous posts in this series:

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