Kymberly from the Grumble Bumble blog has kindly given me permission to post this two-part series here on my blog.
Everything You Know About Romance Novels Is Wrong (part 1)
Recently, a guest speaker in a class asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I said, "Romance novelist."
His response? "I'm not touching that one."
My response? "I thought so."
I knew I'd throw him off, you see. I should be ashamed that I'd like to write romance novels, right? Well, I'm not.
Then the other night a classmate asked me about my desire to write romance novels. And of course -- OF COURSE -- he asked, "Like 50 Shades of Grey?"
Ugh. I wonder how many romance novelists are so sick of that book for that reason. How many times does someone ask them what they do, to which they respond that they write romance novels, only to have that person ask, "Like 50 Shades of Grey?" I'd like to put a stake through the heart of 50 Shades of Grey for that reason alone.
(Also, 50 Shades of Grey is an awful book. I finally caved and read it because, like, every person possessing a vagina is apparently required to read it. And I believe the only way to truly hate something is to know it. So I read it. It's one of the worst books I've ever read. The hero is an abusive asshole. There's an entire page in the book where the discussion between the hero and heroine goes like this:
"Will you beat me again?"I'm not even joking. Also, it's poorly written. If 50 Shades of Grey is written well enough to be an international bestseller, my shitty blog should earn me a damn Pulitzer.)
"Do you want me to beat you again?"
"I'd like to beat you again. Don't you like it?"
"No. Please don't beat me again."
So let's talk about how everything you know about romance novels is wrong. First of all, have you read one? No? Then shut up. I read 50 Shades of Grey. I at least suffered in order to earn my right to say how awful it is. If you haven't read a romance novel then YOU NEED TO SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP.
It's time for you to learn something...
Myth #1: Romance novels are porn for women.
First of all, if romance novels are porn for women, how is that a problem? Men are allowed (even supposed to) like porn, but not women? What bull!
But I maintain that romance novels are not pornography. Pornography centers on the sex act as the most important element of the "story." Romance novels revolve around a love story. Sex, being a very significant element of relationships and falling in love, often occurs in romance novels (but not always). And I really don't see the problem with that, but there's a big difference between "centers on a love story" and "centers on a sex act."
And if you don't know the difference, I kinda feel sorry for whoever is in a relationship with you.
Myth #2: Romance novels are rape-y.
Like many myths, this one has a basis in fact while still being largely untrue. This is how I'd describe it: Romance novels used to be rapey. They aren't anymore. In early decades of the genre, which just so happened to coincide with decades in which women had limited sexual agency, romance novels contained rape at a much higher rate than romance novels published in more recent decades.
There's actually a reason for this, one that I hinted at with "decades in which women had limited sexual agency." Back in the day, a woman who had premarital sex was a slut. Women who read books in which women had premarital sex were reading books about sluts.
Even today, there's a large number of people who think a woman who enjoys sex is a slut and a bad person, so don't try to claim this wasn't a big deal or that women did not and do not internalize these kinds of societal norms. We do. So, in order to make a heroine palatable for a reader while also allowing a book to have a sex scene, heroes in romance novels often raped the heroine. It's a crazy idea to grasp, but it's true.
Think of it like this: The heroine really, really wants something but she knows it's wrong, which, shockingly, just so happened to sync with the reader really, really wanting something but knowing it's wrong. Weird how that works. In order to give both the heroine and the reader that thing that they really, really wanted but couldn't say yes to, the hero made the decision for them, thus releasing them from responsibility for desiring things they aren't supposed to desire.
(I feel it's important to point out that this is fantasy. Don't go walking away thinking I'm saying women want to be raped. I'm explaining the history of a genre to you, not describing modern women's psychology. Don't be an idiot.)
With second-wave feminism in the '70s came the radical concept that women enjoy sex. And romance novels began to incorporate this new ideology. Modern romance novels -- as in, romance novels published in recent decades -- no longer need this device to sooth the reader's soul and glad we are for that!
Heavy lifting done, time to move on to the fluffier stuff...
The second part of Grumble Bumble's post will appear here on my blog Tuesday, 11th December, 2012!