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‘There is a sizeable market out there for mild-mannered men.’ Photograph: Sophie Filippova/Getty Images/Tetra images RF (posed by models)
‘There is a sizeable market out there for mild-mannered men.’ Photograph: Sophie Filippova/Getty Images/Tetra images RF (posed by models)

What do women really want? A mild-mannered, squishy-centred man

Arwa Mahdawi

Christian Grey types are being supplanted in romance novels by heroes with a sweet, golden retriever energy – and some conservatives aren’t happy

Buckle up, ladies – it’s squishy boi summer. According to a recent piece in Publishers Weekly, the male leads of romance novels aren’t quite as hard as they used to be. The hot new industry trend is books featuring “squishy-centred men” AKA “sweet cinnamon roll heroes” and “golden retrievers”.

Perhaps you’re thinking that sounds … sticky? And sort of slobbery? Look, I don’t know all the sordid details but I can assure you that in romance novel lingo a “cinnamon roll” means a sweet, supportive hero: a gentleman in the streets, who irons your sheets. That sort of thing. And a “golden retriever” is an upbeat love interest with a floppy, friendly energy. The opposite, in other words, of an aggressive, domineering alpha such as Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey.

So does this represent some sort of monumental social shift? Are nice guys finally finishing first? I wouldn’t read too much into one trend piece, but it does look as if there is a sizeable market out there for mild-mannered men. While that sounds like great character development to me, not everyone agrees. There is, you may have noticed, a cohort of rightwing culture warriors perpetually looking for an excuse to get offended, and it appears some of them read Publishers Weekly. The New York Post just put out a disgusted article about how woke women are flocking to novels featuring “squishy-centred men”. I’ll give them their due: they didn’t just type “woke” a million times; they reached out to Fabio, the model who graced the cover of 1,300 romance novels in the 90s and who appeared in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! adverts, for comment. His comment? “Hogwash!”

The people who Publishers Weekly asked to comment were rather more nuanced in their feedback. “We’re seeing changing views on identity and masculinity and consent in the larger population, and readers are looking for romance novels to reflect what they’re seeing in the culture,” one book editor told the trade publication. In other words, it’s capitalism and free-market dynamics at work. I thought conservatives found that very sexy?

  • Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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