I started reading romance novels when I was 13. They were awesome. (Sex.) Lots of pretty people, gorgeous settings, outrageous heroes and flamboyant heroines and … yes … sex. I never considered romance books to be “women’s novels.” They were books that I liked to read and the stories often satisfied me.
Once you like something, you search for other people who like it too and you seek validation for your interest. When you do that, you also find the people who hate what you like. I discovered a lot of hate for the romance novels I loved so much. My school guidance counselor told me I was wasting my life reading that crap. Articles in magazines said that romance novels were escapist literature (as if that were the worst thing EVER) and junk, implying that not reading would be better than reading a romance novel. And I know you’ve heard someone talk trash about Harlequin romances, haven’t you?
Why so much hate for romance novels?
I don’t know the answer to this question. Not really. But I have some guesses and I’ll share them with you now. (Lucky you. LOL)
1. They are written by women
This is a heated assertion, isn’t it? It’s true, though. I don’t hear people hating on Westerns or thrillers or fantasy/sci-fi with the same vitriol that’s expended on the romance genre. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is still a ton of gender inequality in our world. Women are still judged more by their looks than their merits. (If this wasn’t true, then why do we still have dumb-ass crap like the Miss America and Miss USA pageants?)
2. They are primarily about emotions
In our gender-stereotypical world, there are lines which must not be crossed. Boys can’t wear pink and girls can’t have short hair! It’s not allowed. Anytime a kid or an adult crosses the stupid gender line, there are always assholes lined up to knock them back in place. Which means books about emotions, about relationships, HAVE to be women’s books because women are emotional and men are not.
How damaging is THAT to our kids, both boys and girls and all the genders in-between and outside? Is it really important that we have these rigid roles everyone must follow? Does it matter if a guy is emotional? That a woman likes watching blood and guts? Romance novels explore relationships and love and other emotions and those things are relegated to women. If men are interested in those things, they’d better reach for porn, because guys are visual and like sex and don’t like that emotion shit, blah blah blah.
3. They are perceived by haters to be poorly written
I hear this a lot and it’s a bunch of bullshit. (I’m cursing a lot because it’s part of my pain management plan. And, it’s fun.) There are crappy books in all genres. There are crappy Westerns and thrillers and horror novels and literary novels and sci-fi and fantasy novels ad nauseam. If something can be written poorly, loaded with clichés, filled with eye-rolling exposition and swooping vomit-bags full of over-blown description, then it will be created–IN ANY GENRE. Just because you don’t like a genre, doesn’t mean every book in it is trash. Sorry.
Example: The Heart of Midlothian is utter pompous, boring rubbish and it’s considered literature.
4. They stereotype women and men
Some do. That’s the truth. Of course, all genres do this too. (Have you not seen the busty women on the cover of Conan books? Can cowboys always learn how to shoot from the hip with deadly
accuracy whilst galloping on a stallion across the plains?) Saying that only romance novels are guilty of it and then asserting that they are worthless because of it makes the asserter an asshat. There are just as many great romance novels that explore all these issues as there are novels that come up short. Poo pooing an entire genre because a few examples fuck up is a crazy way to live life. I suppose it limits the extraordinarily large reading field, but what true lover of books wants to limit themselves in anyway?
5. They are trash
Ah. “Too much sex!” “I just skim the sex.” “I don’t see why there has to be so much sex.”
Sex. Wild, passionate sex. Gentle, loving sex. Lustful fucking. Joyful fingering. All of it and more can be found within the covers of romance novels. Why hate on sex? Because it’s still one of our biggest taboo topics. We still legislate around different types of sex, for the love of all that’s unholy. (In Nebraska, it’s still against the law to bugger someone. Of course, the law doesn’t define buggering and there are several definitions. Get this sorted, Nebraska!)
We are prudish about sex. Careful about it. We hold lots of misinformation and misguided ideas about sex. (People who like sex are BAD. Sex is evil. Coercive sex isn’t rape. Crazy shit like that.)
It’s not surprising that books with sex in them would catch some slack for it and combined with all the other things? Psh. I’m surprised romance novels are even still around … except, you know, they are one of the highest selling genres out there. 🙂
There’s a lot of misinformation and misguided ideas in romance novels. (No, ladies, your hymen doesn’t need broken!) But you can find stuff like that in other books, too.
Thing is, romance novels are just like all the other novels out there. They aren’t better or worse; they just ARE. If you love them, read them. If you hate them, don’t. If you’re a dude and you haven’t tried them, I suggest Welcome To Temptation by Jennifer Cruisie. If you’re a woman and you haven’t tried them, check out Manhunting, also by Jennifer Cruisie.
The point is, hating on a genre of books is the epitome of close-mindedness. Don’t be that person.
Be the person who reads for the fun of it. Be the person who doesn’t give a crap that the book is a romance or a fantasy or a horror-thriller-jack-in-the-box-memoir as long as it’s the best damn horror-thriller-jack-in-the-box-memoir you’ve ever read.