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1993 Women’s Empowerment

Exploring Women Empowerment in the 1993 Romance Industry

By Mitsuki Uehara (2024)


In this industry report, I will delve into the impact of the romance genre on women readers, writers, and characters within the United States during the year of 1993. I will argue that the romance industry emerged as a powerful and influential force, providing not only entertainment but also a vibrant community that empowered both its readers and writers, fostering a palpable sense of agency and autonomy beyond the confines of traditional gender expectations. Through an examination of select editions of Romantic Times from the months of January, February, June, November, and December of 1993, I will highlight instances where women’s empowerment, independence, and agency were prominently featured and celebrated.  

Romantic Times – Cultivating Community and Empowerment in the Romance Genre

Romantic Times, founded in 1981 by Kathryn Falk, was a fundamental aspect of the romance genre landscape, serving as a vital resource for romance enthusiasts across the United States. In a letter addressed to booklovers within the February 1993 edition, Falk writes how every year, Romantic Times develops themes based on the evolution of the romance industry and how it “can view it from a unique perspective and create forums at [its] gatherings for open discussions” (RT February 1993). This shows that the magazine is creating expanding platforms that capture the latest changes of the industry and keeps it up to date for its readers. The magazine features a diverse array of content, ranging from comprehensive reviews of new releases and intimate author interviews to passionate reader letters and discussions. In the same letter addressed to booklovers within the February 1993 edition, Falk emphasizes how Romantic Times and its conventions served as invaluable resources, bringing together “every facet of the industry under one roof to study how each one interacts effectively in the romance paperback world” (RT February 1993). 

While exploring the insights presented in Romantic Times, it is essential to acknowledge the potential for biases in content curation. The magazine’s selection of themes and narratives may not fully represent the entirety of the romance genre landscape. Nonetheless, under Falk’s leadership, the editorial team demonstrated a deep understanding of the romance genre’s audience and strove to curate content that resonated with readers and writers across different demographics and tastes. Through its efforts, Romantic Times played an instrumental role in fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment among its devoted readership and writership.  

Empowerment Represented in Heroines in Romance Novels

Many romance novels featured in Romantic Times portrayed heroines embodying traits that resonated with women readers, evoking feelings of strength and empowerment. In a letter to booklovers within the December 1993 edition, Falk writes that romance novels sales have climbed from 47% to 50% of paperback sales, and Romantic Times is “initiating the promotion of yet another dimension of romance novels: the power to empower women readers through the character and actions of novel heroines” (RT December 1993). She continues to explain that if the magazine can help “other women to overcome the feeling of helplessness that is buried deep in women’s upbringing, it is not only a healthy undertaking for educating women’s emotions and liberating them, but a worthwhile responsibility of this magazine.” These heroines courageously confronted conflicts and navigated tumultuous relationships with their male counterparts, inspiring readers with their resilience. For instance, an advertisement in the January edition of the magazine highlights Harlequin Superromance’s innovative approach, promising readers a “daring new concept in romance” featuring “WOMEN WHO DARE!” These heroines were described as “bright, bold, beautiful… brave and caring, strong and passionate,” individuals who fearlessly pursued love on their own terms (RT January 1993). What is noteworthy here is the depiction of heroines as strong and independent, rather than submissive and reliant on male guidance. 

In an article in the December 1993 edition, Falk writes that it has finally become the right and acceptable time for the magazine to “have the authority at last to disclose that romance heroines influence women more than anyone ever imagined. Especially in the future…” (RT December 1993). This assertion underscores the significance of heroines in shaping readers’ perceptions and empowering them to embrace their own agency and desires. 

Furthermore, these heroines are portrayed as multifaceted characters, possessing both strength and warmth, which likely contributed to their appeal among readers and writers in 1993 since this time period was seen as the “Romance Revolution” where women were still playing a pivotal role within the household, but also gaining power for themselves as independent women. 

Throughout the January edition and subsequent issues, a recurring theme emerged of heroines being described as “courageous, independent women” or “hard-charging, liberated career women.” For instance, Teresa Roebuck’s review of a Harlequin/Temptation novel highlights the protagonist as an independent woman who chooses a partner based on mutual respect, rather than settling for a domineering man (RT January 1993). Similarly, in the “It’s About Time!” section, a heroine is depicted as a career-driven individual who seeks a partner capable of appreciating her ambitions, contrasting with the negative portrayals of previous romantic interests (RT January 1993). 

Another example from the June edition, in Homespun, Heartfire, and Harper, illustrates the importance of finding a partner who respects and supports a woman’s career aspirations. The article emphasizes the rarity of such men in 1993, underscoring the significance of heroines who prioritize both love and personal fulfillment (RT June 1993). This portrayal not only reflects increasing societal attitudes towards women’s autonomy but also encourages readers to value their own ambitions and independence. 

Falk acknowledges that “many, but not all, romance writers have made a point to create powerful heroines. They know that readers respond to strong women, and this behavior makes a difference. Until now, [Falk] felt the romance novel industry couldn’t afford to be so openly a part of the women’s movement because the media wasn’t ready. This is the time to develop a new strategy. What we have ahead of us is the opportunity through romance novels to directly transfer empowerment messages to millions of women” (RT December 1993). 

However, despite the progress depicted in more freely advertising these novels, the difficulty in finding supportive male partners suggests that 1993 marked a pivotal moment in the ongoing evolution of gender dynamics. The portrayal of heroines as assertive and self-assured foreshadows a shift towards greater gender equality in 1993 and subsequent years, as society grapples with the changing roles and expectations of women.

Empowerment felt by Romance Readers

Reading about heroines in romance novels who embody traits like strength, independence and intelligence often led many women readers of 1993 to feel empowered, prompting them to take on more initiative and seek fulfillment beyond traditional roles as housewives and mothers. This is exemplified in the article Falk writes regarding the Romance Revolution when she discusses how influential the book Angelique was for her, noting that “she was my role model and an inspiration for survival” (RT December 1993). 

In the January edition of Romantic Times, the magazine highlights the annual convention it hosts, specifically created for readers and aspiring writers to attend. This sheds light on the autonomy and agency women find in attending such events. Spouses can engage in leisure activities while their partners attend seminars, highlighting the convention as a space for women’s personal growth rather than a service to their families (RT January 1993).

Moreover, anecdotes from readers further illustrate the importance of these conventions as opportunities for women to prioritize their own desires and interests. In the February edition’s “Reader Leaders” section, a woman recounts her response to a hotel clerk’s inquiry about kitchen amenities during her convention stay: “‘Are you kidding? You must be joking!’ I don’t want to look at a kitchen, dish or sponge. I am on holiday and my fantasies DO NOT include a kitchen. I want to go in grand style, be treated like royalty, no kitchens, no husband, no kids. I love my husband and kids very much, but for the four days of this convention they can all get along without mom, mommy or honey” (RT February 1993). Her dismissive attitude towards domestic concerns underscores the convention as a respite from familial responsibilities, allowing women to indulge in their passions without tending to their domestic responsibilities.

Beyond convention experiences, even the act of reading romance novels itself fosters empowerment. Jane Seymour’s advice in the June edition encourages women to embrace their agency by becoming the “heroine of their own lives,” advocating for self-determination, courage, and self-respect (RT June 1993). Seymour’s message urges women to prioritize self-care and take proactive steps towards their own happiness, challenging traditional notions of passive femininity.

Empowerment felt by Romance Writers

Many women romance writers of 1993 initially started as avid readers of romance novels themselves, as revealed through confessions made by writers themselves highlighted in the magazine. By immersing themselves in romance literature, they began to discern what they sought in the narratives they consumed and eventually ventured into publishing their own worlds. In the January edition of Romantic Times, readers shared testimonials about attending conventions and how the workshops and seminars encouraged them to publish their own books. For example, a single, young lawyer embarked on writing historical romances, finding an outlet for creativity and imagination beyond her legal career. She wrote, “I have a great deal of practice writing. My work, however, doesn’t allow my imagination to shine through in my words. After being inspired by your book, I began writing a historical romance I have ‘seen’ in my mind, scene by scene, when I drift off to sleep.” This transition into writing romance allowed her to assert control and agency in her life in a way that her job as a lawyer could not (RT January 1993). 

Romantic Times played a pivotal role in fostering courage among women writers, encouraging them to explore their suppressed passions and pursue careers in writing. Another reader, a 19-year-old, expressed her aspirations to become a romance author and sought encouragement to realize her dream. Romantic Times staff responded by urging her to “concentrate on delving into your feelings as deep as possible so that other women reading your story will think, ‘Oh, that’s right,’ or ‘that’s something I felt but could never express’” (RT January 1993). 

This interconnectedness between readers and writers cultivated a powerful sense of empowerment among women, enabling them to redefine themselves on their own terms. As women increasingly engaged in the romance industry, they assumed leadership roles that provided them with purpose and self-fulfillment beyond domestic confines. Judge Prager’s venture into producing romance entertainment on audio tape exemplified this shift, as her husband sold his successful CPA practice in order to support her dream (RT January 1993).

In the December edition, Kathryn Falk explored the emerging role of romance novels in empowering women. She emphasized how romance authors convey messages of strength and independence through powerful heroines, inspiring readers to assert their autonomy and make choices that align with their desires: “Think of the many women who feel helpless. If we give them books and characters that motivate readers to feel and act stronger, more independently and creatively, then we are providing invaluable guidance” (RT December 1993). Through this, Falk implied that all women who feel helpless in their situations or circumstances have the ability to feel stronger and more independent with the help of romance novels. 

Many women writers stumbled upon writing as a secondary pursuit but found profound fulfillment in it. Sally Stone, featured in the December edition, recounted how discovering Romance Writers of America and Romantic Times resonated with her deeply, leading her to realize her true calling as a writer: “I knew–just knew–I’d finally come home. This is what I was meant to do from the very start” (RT December 1993).

As women established themselves as romance writers, their spouses grappled with evolving roles in their lives. In addition to emphasizing the fact that spouses of women romance writers should be supportive of their endeavors, the December edition’s “Husband’s Column” by Larry Lind discussed the dilemmas of husbands involving themselves in their wives’ work negotiations. The response from Ann LaFarge, senior editor at Zebra Books, echoed Lind’s wife’s sentiment: “How would you like your wife to negotiate your raise down at the office?” (RT December 1993). In this instance, we see that some women dealt with the existing double standard, where men were often expected to maintain their professional autonomy while wives were subjected to undue interference in their careers. This underscores the importance of recognizing and challenging such gendered expectations, advocating for women’s autonomy and agency in their professional endeavors

Empowering Narratives – Influence of 1993 Romance

The exploration of women’s empowerment within the 1993 romance industry illuminates a transformative period. Through an analysis of Romantic Times and its portrayal of heroines, readers, and writers, it becomes evident that women found strength and a sense of autonomy and empowerment in the romance reading and writing community. 

The portrayal of heroines in romance novels reflected changing societal attitudes towards women’s roles, emphasizing traits such as courage, independence, and ambition. These multifaceted characters resonated deeply with readers, inspiring them to assert their agency and pursue fulfillment beyond traditional gender expectations. 

Furthermore, the empowerment experienced by romance readers extended beyond the pages of novels to conventions and personal reflections. Romantic TImes conventions provided women with opportunities to prioritize their own desires and interests, challenging traditional notions of domesticity and passive femininity. Additionally, the act of reading romance novels itself served as a catalyst for personal growth and self-discovery, encouraging women to embrace their agency and pursue happiness on their own terms. 

Aspiring romance writers found courage and inspiration in the supportive community fostered by Romantic Times, embarking on journeys of self-discovery and creative expression. Through their stories and characters, romance authors convey messages of strength and independence, empowering readers to assert their autonomy and make choices aligned with their desires. The 1993 romance reading and writing community, as represented in the pages of Romantic Times, stands as a testament to the transformative power of community and empowerment. 


Falk, Kathryn. “Harlequin Superromance.” Romantic Times, January 1993.

Falk, Kathryn. “Homespun, Heartfire, and Harper Bring Heavenly Historicals Set in Small Town USA.” Romantic Times, June 1993.

Falk, Kathryn. “Jane Seymour’s Guide to Romantic Living.” Romantic Times, June 1993.

Falk, Kathryn. “Letter to Booklovers.” Romantic Times, February 1993.

Falk, Kathryn. “Letters & Faxes From Readers… Lawyer Aspires to Romance Field.” Romantic Times, January 1993.

Falk, Kathryn. “Letters & Faxes From Readers… Is 19 Too Young to Write a Romance?” Romantic Times, January 1993.

Falk, Kathryn. “The Romance Revolution.” Romantic Times, December 1993.

Falk, Kathryn. “The Woman’s Perspective.” Romantic Times, December 1993.

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Krentz, Jayne Ann. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. 

Lind, Larry. “The Husband’s Column.” Romantic Times, December 1993.

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Radway, Janice A. “Women Read the Romance: The Interaction of Text and Context.” Feminist Studies 9, no. 1 (1983): 53-78. https://doi.org/10.2307/3177683.  

Roebuck, Teresa. “Harlequin/Temptation.” Romantic Times, January 1993.

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