Romance Novels and Feminism

By Grace Kruger

My biggest pet peeve is someone criticizing my reading, especially my romance novel de jour. With my freedom to read clearly stated constitutionally and socially (1), I see no reason to be embarrassed by my choice of text, whatever it may be. I feel the historical context of women’s reading, with women being less literate and only allowed to read ‘soft’ texts, casts a shadow over my enjoyment of a romance. I feel people look at this text as if this is all I can read, rather than something I read for enjoyment. As a dedicated English major, I can distinguish between a text that is high literature and one that is smut. My romances are not smut, nor are they “printed porn,” as someone recently suggested. Although most people don’t mind a little sex scene (and what’s falling in love without one?), that isn’t the point of a romance – at least not a good one. They’re about finding the right person and falling in love.

So why people’s strong dislike? Could it be that romances are the largest grossing genre (2)? Could it be that the readership is 90.5% women (3)? I can’t believe romances have a negative impact on women’s lives, since they help you de-stress, and women whoread them are more likely to be in stable romantic relationships (3), if that is what you want.

Common arguments against my novels typically follow one of the following veins: they are not elevated writing, they are not educational, and they are not ‘moral’- whatever that means. But I’m an English major, people- if I wanted to read something elevated, as I often do, I choose a classic or technical text. Romances are for fun! I disagree that I would be better off watching a TV show or playing a video game, many of which are abhorrently violent and sexist. At least reading increases your vocabulary and sometimes your knowledge of other time periods and cultures.

Must writing be elevated for it to be enjoyable? I don’t think so. Are romance novels not educational at the basest level in that any reading is good? Was the war and sacrifice in Raeanne Thayne’s Dancing in the Moonlight not thought provoking? This romance told the love story of an amputee nurse who returned home after serving in Afghanistan. As for the morality of romances, I would argue that the vast majority of heroines act very conservatively, which would be the correct behavior in the eyes of the people trying to censure my reading! I feel an inherent opposition to questioning about my own ability to ascertain what is ‘moral’ behavior.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I read about three romances a week and would be the last to argue that there aren’t bad romances out there. Like books of any genre however, you get some bad eggs. Romance readers are very likely to follow their favorite authors(3), which is an easy way of avoiding poorly writing. So in the end, are romances feminist? I’m not sure, but I certainly believe that they can increase women’s quality of life.

1 http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/ftrstatement/ALA_print_layout_1_137577_137577.cfm
2 http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics/industry_statistics
3 http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics/industry_statistics

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4 thoughts on “Romance Novels and Feminism

  1. I agree– this usually bothers me when I’m on vacation and want to read “light and fluffy” books. As an English major too, I totally understand the need for a break from the classics.

  2. While I totally agree that no one should really be going around and criticizing anyone else’s choice is reading material (especially if it’s just for leisure!), I must say that it does get somewhat annoying when people assume that since you’re female, you MUST like romance novels. Personally, I’m not a fan, but there have been a few separate occasions where people have presumed that I do, and it is somewhat annoying. Just because the vast majority of the genre’s readers are women doesn’t mean that the vast majority of women read the genre…

  3. kelsgriffin-

    I agree! So many women don’t like romance novels or chick lit, and even worse is being told you can only like one genre. My father mentioned a book on theoretical physics that he and I had just read to my grandfather, and my grandfather looked at me and said, “I thought you preferred romance?”.

  4. I think the issue, at least for men, is the covers. As a younger guy I’m sorry to say, I did make fun of some female friends who read romances. Especially the ones with racier covers… later, I picked a few up and found them to be fun reads! But at the time, if I’m honest, I’d say I was just intimidated by the covers (not being a male model) and felt like these books were telling women to avoid relationships with any guy who wasn’t tall, dark, and handsome. The funny thing is that after reading a few, I realized that romance novels actually help imperfect guys, because the heros are almost always flawed in some way. I’d bet that female romance readers are actually a little more open to getting to know a guy they aren’t instantly attracted to specifically because of all the storylines where the most unlikely people find themselves attracted to one another.

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