Pretty Woman, Cinderella and Romance

Pretty Woman movie posterPretty Woman. Yep, that’s the one. When I began thinking about this month’s topic—movie and television characters—I kept coming back to Pretty Woman. As a feminist, I shouldn’t love this movie, but I do. And my favorite part is Vivian’s shopping spree courtesy of her “john,” the incredibly wealthy, Edward Lewis. I know. Could I be more shallow? (Okay, Word is telling me that the correct word is shallower. Sorry, it just doesn’t have the same impact.)

Pretty Woman is a Cinderella story, but unlike the Cinderella movie I talked about last month, the characters in Pretty Woman are transformed by the end of the story. And like any good romance, their transformations occur because of the hero and heroine’s growing love for each other. For those few living under a rock (or too young to be familiar with the movie), here is a brief synopsis. Edward Lewis despises his father, who abandoned him and his mother. But he has followed in his father’s footsteps by using and discarding women. Vivian Ward is the hooker with a heart of gold and little self-esteem. As she tells Edward, “People put you down enough, you start to believe it.” Edward learns to love and trust. Vivian learns that she’s worth more than a paid, five minute hook-up with a stranger. And they all live happily ever after, although I understand the HEA wasn’t included in the original version.

Billionaire bad boys and poverty-stricken, nurturing women aren’t new to the romance genre. From Regency dukes to modern day CEO’s, from the orphaned ingénue to the single mom trying to put one more meal on the table and still afford the monthly rent, they abound. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, anything by Dame Barbara Cartland, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The “sugar and spice” gender learns that if they are good and kind and patient and nurturing, they will receive their reward in the form of a handsome, “obscenely” wealthy and often dysfunctional man. But women must possess all those saintly qualities to tame/snag that oh-so-desirable (?) man.

Surprisingly, the trend has continued in today’s romances. In fact, it seems to be on the upswing. I have to ask myself why. Yes, women are still underpaid compared to men, but it’s not like the old days. Remember them? When the highest position a woman could aspire to was the CEO’s secretary?

While my taste for the billionaire bad boy has declined over the years, I still admit to the occasional indulgence. Would I have loved Pretty Woman without the penthouse, the private jet, the insanely expensive restaurant and the aforementioned shopping? Yes. After all, I married a poor college student. We both still laugh about the day, shortly after our wedding, when I found a dollar bill in my purse. The excitement of being able to afford a loaf of bread bubbled over, and I called my husband at work with the joyous news! I’d won the lottery!

A romance is a romance. A great romance is a great romance. But that fantasy life of luxury, of being taken care of, calls to me from time to time. What about you?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

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