Roni Loren just posted “Battling the Romance Novel Stigma”. It made me uncomfortable.
It’s best to read the whole thing, but if you’re short on time, here are the parts that rattled my comfort cage:
“…women often are embarrassed to admit it’s a romance or apologize in some way when they admit it.”
“Why are we made to feel that if we’re reading romance we’re something less than – less classy, less educated, less evolved? Or even worse, that something must be wrong with us because we can’t find a real man and instead look for them in books.”
I just hate the fact that those attitudes are real. I tried about six times to write a comment on her blog, and each time I flailed.
I’m not a romance reader. I read romance novels for about six months when I was a young teenager. I grew up on a farm in the back of beyond, so the tiny library in a town twenty miles away was my only source. Let’s just say that their selection was limited. After a couple dozen, even my thirteen-year-old mind identified the formula. I got bored. End of reading romance.
Not to mention the fact that there was no sex in them whatsoever. Boring. I started reading fine literature like Stand On It: A Novel by Stroker Ace instead. Which probably explains a lot.
Back to the point. I’ve always been a tomboy. If I have a choice between listening to somebody discuss relationships or cars, I’ll choose cars every time. I assumed that my discomfort with the romance genre was due to the fact that I’m not very girly in the first place.
But it bothers the hell out of me to think that women who do enjoy reading romance would feel embarrassed to admit it.
Why should they?
And yet… I was reading a novel at the airport. It was an urban fantasy, but the cover art showed a couple locked in a passionate embrace. And yeah, I kinda hid the cover.
Because… because… here’s where I start to struggle. Why would I be embarrassed? Because somebody might think I’m reading a romance. Okay, so what the hell is so bad about that?
Well, somebody might think I’m girly.
Which is bad, why?
I’m a child of the sixties. Back then, women were fighting for equality. A lot of women tried to act more like men in an effort to prove that we deserve equal respect. Maybe there’s some of that in there. Men don’t read romance novels. Ergo, reading romance novels is a sign of weakness.
Which, of course, is pure bullshit.
But it may be part of our collective psyche.
Why should we apologize for our gender? “Girly” is used as an epithet. You don’t see guys sheepishly hiding the covers of their books and mumbling, “Oh, I’m just reading some of that silly manly stuff.”
Now, I’m really wondering.
Is there a particular demographic that’s embarrassed about reading romance? Maybe my generation is still dealing with the last of those old attitudes. But what about our teenagers and twenty-somethings? Are they embarrassed to be girly? If they are, we as a society are doing something very wrong.
I guess I’m upset because I was getting complacent. We’ve come so far, both legally and socially, in my lifetime. I really thought we were getting there.
Somebody please help me out here. Is it only my generation that’s embarrassed to be girly (or only me)? Is it a sign that we’ve become too complacent and we’re actually losing ground on equality? Does it just mean that we’re not quite there yet?
Or am I making too much of this?
12 thoughts on “Too Girly For Comfort”
I’m not a great fan of romance fiction. To my mind, it’s split into two main categories – historic classics (Jane Austin and that ilk), and what we, here in the UK, refer to as ‘Mills & Boon’. M&B are a popular publishing company of very formulaic romance novels – very short, not much actual plot. Years ago, I thought that I’d try my hand at writing for M&B. I was very young and though that by reading a few of them I could crack the formula and make my fortune! Of course it didn’t work, and it didn’t work because my heart is not in that sort of fiction. I like novels with complex plotlines, lots of twists and turns and ones which don’t necessarily always have a happy ending. And I think that’s why romance novels get such a bad press – they are frequently formulaic and unoriginal because the publishers who print them demand them to be so.
So, I’m not sure it necessarily has to do with being ‘girly’ or feminine or whatever…
Good point, Val. As Roni points out, the publishers’ attitudes are changing, so maybe the romance genre will overcome its stigma eventually. Let’s hope so.
Thanks for linking to my post and I’m glad it gave you food for thought. The romance writer in me does want to send you a big pile of books to show you how far romance has come since the “heaving bosom” days. These are not the formulaic romances of the past. The only necessity in a romance is a happy ending.
The rest of the “formula” is the formula of EVERY type of genre book and movie (sci-fi, thriller, mystery, horror, etc.)–inciting incident knocks you out of your ordinary world, characters fight to overcome internal and external conflicts, they think they succeed, the bottom falls out, all is lost, then there is redemption/happy ending/what have you because they’ve overcome the obstacles or bad guys and in turn have changed some internal thing about themselves.
As for the girly issue, I don’t know. I’d say our teens are probably not getting the message to not be girly because 85% of the young adult books that are flying off the shelves are romances and their isn’t any embarrassment there.
As for adult women, I think there is an issue of not wanting to be perceived as “silly” or God forbid “sexual” by reading romance in front of others. I’m an admitted tomboy. I played sports, have always been more comfortable in jeans, and hate shopping for shoes and handbags. Bleh. But I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and refuse to apologize for my reading (and writing). Romance heroines are strong women (you can’t get it published otherwise anymore) who know what they want. And they go about finding a healthy relationship with someone else. I don’t see anything wrong or embarrassing about that. So I read with my covers in full view. To hell with everyone else. (By the way, if you haven’t read my agent’s article that I linked to on Romance reading and feminism in the post, definitely check it out. She goes more into the feminism part than I did. ) 🙂
Thanks for commenting, Roni. I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was disparaging today’s romantic literature, because I’m definitely not in a position to comment on that.
You’ve given me a good education on the new romance genre, and I promise to read some. Since your book isn’t out yet, maybe you (or someone else) can suggest a good author for a tomboy to read…?
I’m glad to hear that you think teens have overcome that faulty wiring.
And I guess I tackled “fear of silly” rather than “fear of sexual” in my post because I’m not the least bit concerned about being perceived as “sexual”. I am sexual. I feel good about it. But “silly”? Ouch.
Women should never be embarrassed to be feminine. Men often try to solve their problems by punching people in the nose: women negotiate with words. I find the latter far more civilized.
Dr. B, author, “The Mandolin Case”
Thanks, Dr. B. It’s nice to know you feel that way. Now all we have to do as women is internalize that attitude.
My head teacher at my primary school said something along those lines, just after me and my best friend at the time had had a huge fall out. I believe she said “boys just hit each other and get over it, or they hate each other. Girls apologize, and blame it on themselves, and start a whole new argument. They do it nicely, and without violence, and the next day, they forget about it.” Yes, I do get what you are saying and I agree in most cases, but it is not true for all people. I can’t really imagine Kane and Hellhound hitting each other, could you? I think that sometimes people need to be brave enough to step out of the mould placed on them because of their gender. Although society in most places sees men and women as equals, they aren’t actually. Joanne Rowling was advised to use JK to make her books sell better, most MDs of companies are male, and there s a tax on sanitary products as they are not seen as a necessity, but helicopters and crocodile steaks are! People shouldn’t see preferences such as liking romances books a weaknesses. We all have a right to be our own person, no matter what any one says. I do apologise if this makes not since or if I have babbled on a bit, but I hope you get the most of what you’re saying, and yes, I do understand when you say that in general women can be more civilised.
You make perfect sense, and I really hope that ‘live and let live’ attitude is becoming more prevalent. It would be nice to live in a world where, when we describe the discrimination and intolerance of the past, our kids look at us like we’re from Mars and go, “What? People actually did and said crap like that? Were you nuts?!?”
I’m not girly either, but that doesn’t mean I’m any good at the manly stuff. I remember going in a used-bookstore where they shelved everything by genre. One aisle was all pink and light blue and white. Another was red and black with silver embossing. It was pretty stark. I have to come up with a cover for a novel I’m writing and I think only green is left.
I do have a friend who is a successful Regency Romance writer and, while her books all follow a formula, they are well written and entertaining and SHE is embarrassed by the covers.
Thanks for the comment, Murr. The colour stereotyping makes me laugh, although there’s a whole study around the psychology of colour, too. That got my brain going – fodder for another post.
Good luck with the novel. The other traditionally gender-neutral colour is yellow…
I’m not a romance reader either. I read 1 romance- years ago. It was by Fabio, and I think it was about a pirate. I do admit the only reason I bought the book was because of Fabio. Big fan. 🙂 Anyway, I wasn’t embarrassed about the cover. In fact, I remember kind of wishing somebody would see me reading the book and see the picture of Fabio’s bulging muscly goodness, all embossed and golden-shiny.
If I were to read a romance novel in public now, I wouldn’t give a second thought to somebody seeing the cover with a depiction of heaving bosoms, or whatever the current go-to romance pic fad is these days. An exception- I can imagine myself sitting on the bus or subway with a heaving-bosoms-on-cover (they’d have to be *really* heaving for this to happen) romance novel. I’d slowly raise my arms so all could see. Then I’d peek over the top of the open book and catch people looking. But that’s just me. 😉
You go, girl!