February: The month of dreadful articles on Romance

Every February, websites, and magazines gleefully produce articles on Romance novels because they looked at their calendar and realized Valentine’s Day is coming up. Romanclandia dreads this to the point where we have made it a game. The picture above is a great Romance novel and not on the list. The list did contain some great books but starting any list with Gone with the Wind is a sure way to lose me.

Let’s start at ground zero. A Romance novel is DEFINED by having a HEA (a happily ever after) or even a Happy for Now. JUST like a murder mystery novel is defined by having a murder solved or a spy thriller as having a damn spy.

Okay, I promise to calm down soon (as she beats her head against a wall.) but this my therapy after reading a dreadful article on the best romance books. So, having someone fall in love in the book DOES not make it a romance. Just because someone dies in the book, it doesn’t make it a murder mystery, what makes it a murder mystery is that the crime is solved and justice is achieved.  And, if one of the people love dies, it is most definitely NOT a romance. So, Romeo and Juliet is not a romance; it’s a fucking tragedy. Nicholas Sparks books are NOT Romance, they are tragedies or, as I call that particular genre, “Weepies.” Other popular books that fall under this are Me Before You and It Ends with Us.  I have read both. Nothing wrong with tragedies UNLESS you try to call them romances.

Since February is Black History month, I need all the white ladies who grew up watching Gone with the Wind to understand that:

A.    Gone with the Wind is a slavery apologist and “lost cause” bullshit. “Lost Cause” is the same philosophy that put up Confederate statues all over the United States.

B.    Scarlett was an unapologetic slave owner and abuser of people of color. Rhett was an arms dealer. These people were shit. Don’t read about them.

C.    Just because you watched it as a little girl and loved the pretty dresses, doesn’t mean you can’t wake up. In schools, we were all spoon fed these “oh the grand old south, so genteel and they treated their slaves so well” bullshit as part of our education, but it was propaganda spread by white supremacists who also were putting up statues to Confederate soldiers.

Read books by diverse authors. Currently, you are being purposeful if you are only reading books about white people by white authors. In romance, so many great diverse authors. Try Alyssa Cole or Beverly Jenkins or Priscilla Oliveras. I could write a list of 50 authors from diverse backgrounds, but you gotta start somewhere.

NEXT UP, Romance books have evolved just like everything in media. So yes, 40 fucking years ago romance books did not have consensual sex. Neither did movies, TV shows or any other books. Hell, the literary world (run by old white men) is a bastion of non-consensual sex and misogyny. A dramatic shift occurred in the ’90s that moved away from rapey approach to sex but frankly, existed occasionally until the early 2000’s. In fact, I would argue that romance novels were the first place women saw consensual sex being depicted and saw it a possibility for them in real life. Women authors were writing this because they were living it – seeing friends raped or abused or themselves being abused. Women romance authors made their hero’s ASK if the heroine really wanted sex as the hands-down most romantic gesture. Totally depressing if you think about it. The female characters in romance books often FLED abusive relationships to find true love with the hero and not because the hero saved her but because she chose it. EMPOWERMENT. This type of book educated a generation of women. Authors who wrote on these themes became deluged with fans saying “you gave me the courage to leave” and they included addendums with hotlines and information on how to leave abusive relationships. Themes of women triumphing over abuse started occurring in Romance books twenty years ago so yeah, romance helped lay the foundation for the “me too” movement.

I never forget receiving feedback from a man in writing class because my hero reached for a condom. He sneered that birth control wasn’t sexy. I had to explain that yes, in fact, that action underscores who the hero is and his character. That action shows the hero to be caring and thoughtful while being strong. A man stopping to get birth control is freaking the sexiest thing evah. The man giving the feedback looked confused at the idea. Sigh.

Erotica and light erotica are not necessarily romance as it might not have a HEA although it can. Erotica exists to engage the sensual senses of the reader. This is different from porn which exists to get the viewer or reader off. Erotica exists somewhere between porn and romance, there are character arch’s and plots, but the story centers on the act of sex. Sex in a romance exists to show the nature of the relationship of the main characters. In Erotica, sex is the plot. YES, these are mad generalizations and there are lots of authors writing surprising books that play with the gray areas between erotic and romance. And yes, pun intended.

Next up, the ol’ chestnut that romance is for “bored housewives” or is “mommy porn”. These phrases are used to belittle the women readers of romance books. And, really what kind of fantasy world are you living in where there bored housewives wander around reading while their husbands work? I mean I’m sure there are several women like this but MILLIONS OF WOMEN read romance, and these women are working hard at jobs, sometimes multiple jobs while taking care of their families. And “mommy porn” implies that it is disgusting for women to be interested in sex which is messed up on many levels. News flash: Being a woman (and a mother!) and liking sex is called being human.

Of course, in the US, 70% of all men consume porn online, but they are just men, so they get a pass from any condemnation, I guess. By the way, in 2016 Pornhub received 28.5 billion visits. Yes, that’s BILLIONS. Women do make up a percentage of that billions, but it’s mostly men. And, the misogynistic press wants to get judgey about a woman reading about two people falling in love and having great sex. Piss off.

“Guilty pleasure” is a trigger word for me. Apparently, us women are supposed to not enjoy things or something and deems what we like to be trash. Some women try to reappropriate the word in a hell-yes-its-a-guilty pleasure proud way but I still don’t like it but I appreciate the effort to reclaim that phrase.  On Superbowl weekend, do not freaking try to belittle my interests. Roughly 50% of all men watch football, and 98% of these men aren’t athletic. SO—take your judgey bullshit and shove a buffalo wing in your mouth.

Romance laid the foundation for all literature. Romance is one of the essential stories that humans crave. Love, justice, tragedy, and triumph over evil/adversity. These are the essential focus of all stories because they are the core of what drives us and reinforces our core humanist values. BUT somehow, Romance is the genre that is derided. Sort of makes sense in a world run by men although it wasn’t always this way and is somewhat culturally specific. Romance novels show a path not only for women but also for men. What does it take to be a heroic man nowadays? Not much—just ask the woman if she really wants sex and if she doesn’t, don’t have sex.

One of my favorite authors, Daimon Suede, always says to authors “go make that magic. The world needs that shit. Stat.” And it’s a light-hearted statement, but we do need romance because stories of positivity and hope help us endure. We need to see the possibility of love and that we deserve that storyline in our own lives. And as the great John Lennon says, “Love is the answer.”

The image in the header of this blog is from Beverly Jenkins’s Forbidden. Go read it.

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