I began reading romance novels in the 1980’s, where a common plot device was the Evil Other Woman (EOW). She was always older and more experienced than the heroine, and she generally seethed sexuality in contrast to the heroine’s wide-eyed innocence. The EOW usually had a sordid past with the hero, and continues to lurk in the background to torment and undermine the confidence of the heroine.
The EOW littered romance novels of the 1980’s and early 90’s, but somewhere in the late 90’s she started vanishing from the scene. What happened?
Most people speculate it has something to do with distaste for “woman-bashing.” Because these EOW were almost always sexually experienced, the implication seemed to be that while a Virgin equates with good and pure; the Experienced Woman was an unredeemable skank.
I can see the point of this, but I think something deeper was going on. The first wave of romance novels really didn’t have a lot of psychological heft to them. There was plenty of external conflict with pirates, wars, crops dying in the fields, etc…..but in order to introduce an internal conflict, the EOW was just so easy. After all, most of us remember what it was like during those painful high school years when we felt awkward, inadequate, and completely overshadowed by the self-assured goddesses who cheered on the football sidelines and always seemed to have the best of everything. Perhaps we were naturally predisposed to harbor revenge fantasies in which the unassuming heroine triumphs over the EOW who seems to have it all.
As the genre matured, authors can’t get away with cookie-cutter villains, and we needed to dig a little deeper to develop internal conflict and growth. The inspirational genre pushed this even further by welcoming a spiritual component into the mix. We’ve come a long way, and for the most part, I applaud the demise of the EOW.
Still, sometimes it is fun to pull out those wonderful old paperbacks with yellowed pages and tawdry covers to revisit the glory years of the EOW. One of these days I may have to bring her back for a visit in one of my books. I kind of miss her.