I realize I don’t have to defend romance novels to this crowd. You’re either at Smart Bitches because you already enjoy the genre or you got here by mistake and are deeply confused (welcome to the Hot Pink Palace of Bitchery, we have mantitty. And also cookies). I am feeling all the rage though, and need to vent.
Every now and again there are some super shitastic articles posted about why adults should be ashamed to read YA or romance or magazines or what have you. Every time it brings back all my romance novel put-down PTSD.
I can’t tell you the number of times people have questioned my taste in reading. For some reason people think it’s totally okay to be super crappy about my choice in books -- “Oh my God, why are you reading that?” -- but would consider making a similar comment about my choice in clothes too rude to say to my face.
These are the things people have said to me about reading romance novels:
"But you're too smart for books like that."
"Why would you want to waste your time reading trash when there are so many good books out there."
"Romance novels are just smut/trash/girl porn"
"You're wasting your degree by not reading serious fiction."
So here we go.
My name is Elyse. I have a BA in literature. I am a feminist. I have achieved professional success in a male-dominated industry. I am married. I sometimes eat cookies for breakfast. I read romance novels almost to the exclusion of all other books.
I am an adult and I do not need anyone to tell me what I should or should not be reading.
That should end the argument right there. I don’t need anyone’s opinion or judgment on my reading tastes (other than “Oh, I really like that author, too” or “I didn’t care for that book in particular”). But since I will continue to get comments on airplanes and trains and sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, here are some of my responses.
1. “But you’re a feminist!”
You bet I am. People who believe there is something anti-feminist about romance novels clearly have never read one or lack some serious reasoning skills. This is a genre primarily written for women by women. And, yes, romance novels are a fantasy, an escape (some of the time). So why the ever loving shit would a bunch of women write a fantasy about being oppressed/ mistreated/ unempowered for other women? That makes about as much sense as writing children’s books titled Fluffy the Bunny Gets Run Over by the Lawn Mower or How Many Kitties Did the Shelter Euthanize This Year?
Romance novels, even the Old Skool rapey ones (although more problematic), were about women exercising choice. At their heart they are about women finding emotional and sexual fulfillment with a partner of their choice. For how much of human history has this actually been denied to women? In how many places is it still denied?
When my great-grandmother wanted to marry my great-grandfather she actually had to wait for him to be able to afford to buy her from the people who owned her “contract” (i.e. her person) as a domestic servant. This was in the United States, by the way. Three generations ago.
We are re-writing history with romance novels. Historicals create a narrative where a woman is empowered to choose her spouse or partner, where she consents to and enjoys sex. We are exploring history from the female viewpoint and creating fiction that is inclusive to women. In romance novels women are not silent; they are celebrated.
2. “Why don’t you read good/serious literature?”
What does that even mean?
I have a BA in literature. I’ve been a reader my entire life. I can tell you that a book being widely accepted as ‘intellectually challenging’ doesn’t make it so. It also doesn’t make it good. Wanna know a secret? I hate every book by Virginia Woolf, and I’ve read them all. Yup, she’s a smart, female author who had significant influence. She says some interesting things. I hated it. I hated Mrs. Dalloway and I really, really hated The Waves. I was okay with A Room of One’s Own, but only because it was less awful than everything else I read.
I’m sure I’ll get some responses to this like “Well, you just didn’t understand her.” Nope, I actually did understand her just fine. I passed that course with flying colors. I just couldn’t enjoy her writing style even a little bit.
Other supposedly great authors I hate: James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller and Charles Dickens. I can read them. I can understand them. I’m not going to enjoy them.
Why? Because reading, like everything else, is subjective and a matter of taste. People may widely agree that these are great authors and they write great books, but there is actually nothing inherently good about them.
People who hate Charles Dickens are not wrong. People who love Twilight are not wrong. YOU CAN’T BE FUCKNIG WRONG WHEN YOU READ. Unless you completely miss the text and say something like "Great Expectations was about a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating a bi-plane," but even then, if you can support your thesis, you can probably get away with it.
I wrote an honor’s thesis on Moby Dick. I spent an entire semester on The Dick, and really enjoyed it. I read classic Southern American literature for enjoyment. I don’t think any of those books are more valuable than my romance novels. I am not smarter for having read Moby Dick. It didn’t bump my IQ or make me a more thoughtful person. I would argue that reading in general—of any genre—did that.
Also a lot of “serious” literature is primarily written by and about men. That’s changing if you look at contemporary literary fiction (I hate using that label, but I’m not sure what else to call it). Just like pretty much everyone else, I like it when my fiction is representative of me and my experience. I like reading about women who aren’t being treated like total shit.
I remember finishing Tess D’Ubervilles and the fucking RAGE, man. Or Madame Bovary. Or basically 75% of what I had to read in high school. College was a little better because we delved more into contemporary literature, but in my experience, romance novels and mysteries offer the most empowered, engaged women in contemporary fiction.
Also “serious” fiction tends to be depressing. I don’t want to be depressed. Fuck that.
People who worry about only reading serious literature, in my opinion, are just afraid of the world thinking they are dumb. If you love Faulkner, get down with your bad self. If you read it because of judgment, well, then that’s pretty dumb, isn’t it? I’m only going to get to read so many books in my lifetime. I’d rather they be something I enjoy.
3. “But romance novels are trashy!”
This really means “romance novels depict women enjoying sex.” The fact that women enjoying sex is perceived as being “trashy” is THE WHOLE FUCKING PROBLEM.
It is 2014 and if a book contains graphic depictions of women enjoying sex, then it is scandalous. Let’s all just think about that for a minute.
I need another fucking cookie.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what I read. It doesn’t even matter that I do read, quite frankly. What matters is that we live in a world where fiction aimed directly at women is perceived as garbage. That doesn’t say anything at all about me, it says a lot about what needs to change.
So, what put-downs have you received? Have you had to defend your love of romances? (And would you like a cookie? We have plenty.)
Categories: General Bitching, Ranty McRant