Warning: a rant is about to begin. Over the summer, USA Today put out an article about how scholars and the romance genre are related. Some were shocked; I was not among them. The feminist within wants to rant about how anything related to women doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but then I would have to admit that I have been known to hide my affiliation with writing romance.
Known prejudices aside, it shouldn’t take a newspaper article to make people realize there’s more to the romance genre than the supposed bad dialogue, predictable plots, and gratuitous sex. In fact, I would argue that many of the romance novels I’ve read are better written than many supposed literary masterpieces. Try sloughing your way through The Historian; someone really should have been there to say “nice premise, but you really need to pare the story down to its essentials and work on your pacing.” On the other hand, Jennifer Cruisie’s Faking It was a delightfully multilayered story with the interwoven theme of “faking it” played out on many, many levels. Read it and be amazed by how deftly Cruisie keeps bringing that theme around again and again.
Maybe many things feminine have been overlooked and undervalued. After all, teachers and childcare providers get paid very little considering the importance of what they do while CEOs--mostly men--get paid entirely too much for what they do. Would more men be teachers if they could support their families by doing so? And don’t get me started on how expensive daycare is in comparison to how little the employees--again predominantly women--make.
Think back to literature. Hawthorne ranted against those “damn scribbling women.” How dare they take a share of his market! Writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have finally received proper recognition for their novels, but at the time they were considered romances. Do you wonder how many other women authors fell through the cracks? It was 1955 before Emily Dickinson’s poems were published without heavy editing. I’m sure “Wild Nights” was left out of the original publication.
The fact of the matter is that women’s concerns are often taken for granted: love, family, home. Mostly men have written history books throughout the ages, and that’s why they focus on wars and rulers. It took me forever to reconcile my love of history with my disdain for the class. I didn’t care about Grant’s military strategy; I yearned for snippets of daily life. What was it like to be a mother in 1776? What kind of undergarments did women have to wear in 1844? Why did women ever start shaving in the first place? Good luck finding any of that information in a standard history book. (By the way, both undergarments and shaving were originally ploys from advertisers, a way to make money off our insecurities. Underarm shaving dates back to the early twentieth century and the first sleeveless fashions. Women really started shaving their legs in the 1940s either due to a hosiery shortage, to a desire to be like Betty Grable, or more likely a combination of the two.)
Romance novels embrace women’s interests, and that is the simple reason they are popular not just among working class women but also *shock* among highly educated women. As women have become more liberated, romance novels have addressed a broader spectrum of interests and have branched into a plethora of genres, including the more literary women’s fiction. I, for one, am going to work harder not to shift my eyes when I tell someone I write romance novels as well as literary fiction. Maybe I’ll even get wild and crazy and call an embargo on shaving. (Or maybe not since I do want a roommate for M&M next year.)
But for now I’ll step down from my soapbox with a hearty thanks you’ve stayed with me thus far. Ladies, it’s your turn. Go ahead and sound off with a feminist moment or share one of your favorite romance novels that you think is a perfect example of why romance novels go beyond the stereotype. Instead of burning bras, let’s all go read a book.
Oh, and if you haven’t read the original USA Today article that inspired this little tirade. You can find it at