Just a Little Rant

August 2nd, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

This isn’t an article we’d normally link to, because, frankly, it’s not saying a lot that’s new. There are lots of cliches repeated, reinforcing our belief that for each genre of fiction, there is a journalistic template. Except…yes, there’s always an except for us…one line that leaped out and made us choke on our Luna bar. Not to mention that we love paragraphs containing two disparate comments without any sort of substantiation.

Critics argue that romance novels reinforce traditional gender roles. They say it is a woman’s genre, whose content excludes half of the population.

We are not going to comment upon the traditional gender roles aspect because we don’t believe this statement is true. We also will not deny there is an element of traditionalism in romance…just as there is an element, quite strong, of traditionalism in our culture; sometimes books do reflect the world and mores around them. Oops, we did comment. No, we are perplexed at how romance novels exclude half the population.

The unnamed critics (we so love those) feel half the population is left on the reading sidelines, but don’t say how. Is it because men don’t like to read about women’s wants and dreams? Is it because they don’t like to read about sex? Is it because they hate the covers? Or is it because they simply have no idea what the books are about and get all their information from unsourced critics?

Especially since the article says:

The audience isn’t exclusively women.

Our skepticism (see previous re: missed flight) is now home and wide awake. If the novels are excluding half the population and the audience isn’t exclusively women, that leaves the relatively small transgender/transsexual populations. Given that romance novels account for nearly half of all books sold (yes, there are statistics; no, we’re not going to find them right now), something doesn’t quite add up…oh right, women are a large percentage of the population. It sort of makes sense to have books that appeal to them. After all, we spend our youth reading the male version of history (when was the last time you took any history class that focused equally on the female contribution to what happened, Betsy Ross being the exception). And we read a lot of literature about and by men. Why not have equal opportunity?

This line also interested us:

Publishers have been changing the look of romance novels, offering smart covers free of the skin and flame and flower illustrations of the past.

The godawful covers of the past, where women were falling out of their dresses or swooning or some other crazy thing, were geared toward male book buyers. With obvious exceptions, women don’t get particularly thrilled at the sight of heaving bosoms. We see them every day — trust us, not that exciting. We are very excited that the covers of romance novels are more reflective of the contents (though we still think the publishers have a very, uh, traditional view of what appeals to women).

If you’re not into romance, that’s cool with us. Our mother won’t touch the books. Our husband won’t either. Many of our friends back away in fear when we suggest them. In the past several years, we haven’t read them much either. But after a lifetime of reading and analyzing everything we can get grubby little hands on, we respect romance novels just as we respect science fiction, fantasy, mystery, literary, and children’s fiction. Plus all the other types of fiction in between.

If you think your half of the population is being excluded by romance novels, we are curious as to why. Really. Because we don’t feel excluded by books written about what we presume are traditionally male topics (war, conquering nations). We, like many romance readers, read broadly and avidly.

File Under: Square Pegs