Why I Won’t Bash Romance Novels

I recently read and shared the following article on Twitter and Facebook:

Bashing Romance Novels Is Just Another Form Of Slut-Shaming by Sarah MacLean (posted on Bustle, September 29, 2016)

Now that I’ve decided to start reading romance novels, I find that I have a desire to learn more about the history of the genre.

  • Romance novels, as we think of the genre today, really became popular during one of the more sexually repressive eras of modern history, in a society where women weren’t supposed to be sexual beings, weren’t allowed to openly express desire. As Ms. MacLean articulates so well in the article above, reading romance is a way for women to claim their sexuality—to do so in such a sexually repressive era is an almost rebellious act. At the risk of historical revisionism, I see this as subversive and transgressive. It’s empowering.
  • Romance was one of the first genres which allowed women to publish their work and be paid for it under their own names.
  • There are numerous analyses which point out how the content and style of romance novels through the years have mirrored and challenged the status of women in society, and society’s view of women’s sexuality.
  • As both Ms. MacLean and a commenter on my previous post on this subject point out, some of most popular and successful romance authors today are graduates of strongly feminist institutions of higher learning. Romance boasts a strong feminist pedigree.

The history of romance novels is deeply interwoven with the history of women’s liberation and empowerment, from the Victorian Era through the present day. Such understanding presents the genre in an interesting light. In my experience, this isn’t how most people see it.

I confess: Like many well-educated and widely read men in this society, I used to look down on romance novels. In many ways, it’s de rigueur to dismiss romance as trashy and lowbrow (which implicitly assumes that trashy and lowbrow are faults per se—a specious assumption at best; also, not all romance novels are trashy or lowbrow).

But I’ve known too many women over the years who read romance novels to maintain such judgment.

Most of the women I’ve known in my life have been strong, smart, capable, and independent individuals, powerful and empowered. Most of the women I’ve known in my life read romance novels. Many of my coworkers and several of my professors in graduate school read romance novels. These are well-educated and professionally accomplished women.

I look at all the women I know, and have known, who read romance novels and I have to conclude: If women like these choose to read romance, there must be something to it.

Knowing these women as I do, I can’t disdain their choice of reading material.

I confess: I’m getting excited to start reading some romance for myself.

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