Romantic Shame – Why isn’t romance afforded the same respect as other genres?

I am a romance writer and reader. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Most romance writers will tell you they’ve all had some experience with derogatory remarks or comments aimed at the genre as a whole. To those who don’t love romance – often the same individuals who have never actually read a romance – it’s women’s literature  (which somehow seems to mean it’s less meaningful or important), it’s smutty (because of the sexual content many have), it’s fluff (again, perhaps something to do with being about love). In fact, I could go on and on. Even readers of romance have for some time been told there is something “wrong” with their reading preferences, making them desperate, ill-educated women, or other nonsense.

I first decided to look into the idea of Romantic Shame when I was studying English for a BA program. I was in a class investigating popular culture reading, and one of the topics was reading and analyzing the romance novel. Boy was I excited – get to read something I wanted, and consider it for credit? The response, though, was dismally similar to the prejudiced readings I’d heard before. Such, indeed, was the entire tone of my degree, as to study English is to read anything deemed “important,” real “Literature” with a capital “L.” I was at this point already writing romance, and had long enjoyed reading it. And yet, I noticed myself and friends frequently turning over the book so the cover wasn’t obvious, perhaps so we didn’t have to “justify” our reading choices.

Why was this? I wondered. What was it that caused such prejudice? Did I find a definitive answer? No. I probably could have gone on to my PhD investigating this with no clear solution. While I do suspect it has something to do with the sexual connection – romance is often considered smut and covers with writhing or half-naked couples often don’t detract from this – it’s probably a combination of all of the above. It takes a long time for prejudice to be reduced, and there is a potential “happy ending” ahead.

The good news? This is starting to change. Romance is one of the few genres in the publishing industry that thrives during a recession, and folks are starting to recognize this. Thanks in part to organizations like RWA (The Romance Writers of America), further research is starting to show up which is proving what romance writers and readers have known for years: we’re an educated, interesting bunch offering quality writing and stories. Finally it’s starting to be recognized that even some of the real Literature classics belong to romance. I am thinking, of course, of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, even Shakespeare had a few works which could be considered romance but are usually classified as comedies.

I could go on ad-nauseum about the rotten things some people have to say about romance, defend it, etc, but many others have done the same. Instead, what’s good about romance? Why should it be celebrated?

1)      It’s about love. At heart, isn’t this what most people list or feel is the most important thing in their lives? What could be better.

2)      All romances have a happy ending. The happy ending is requisite in romance. While real life may be full of lots of unhappy endings, romances offer the hope that no matter how bad things get, there is light at the end, happiness and joy.

3)      The industry is full of sub-genres which grow all the time, meaning whatever your reading interest, you can probably find a romance sub-genre that correlates. From sci-fi, contemporary, paranormal, to newer ones like steam-punk, it’s all fair game.

4)      Romances offer adventure, action, escape into another world. It’s quite rarely just boy meets girl and they fall in love. Instead, they battle foes, search for treasures, fight wars, all at the same time they begin to explore the greatest adventure of love with each other.

5)      They touch readers’ emotions. Some books will make you cry, others will make you laugh until your stomach aches. It’s a very rare thing if they leave you unchanged or feeling you haven’t somehow experienced or felt something after the last page.

6)      These are smart books by smart authors. Are there books that are better or poorer than others? Certainly, as you’ll find in whatever genre you read. But on the whole, a lot of research, thought, wit, and heart is poured into every page of every book.

7)      Romances offer an exploration of every facet of human relationships and developing love, and aren’t shy when it comes to intimacy. This is a part of the human experience, changes us, scares us, comforts us, and is necessary for continuation of the species. While other genres sometimes likewise explore human intimacy, in romances sensuality is always tied to the love story, meaning as a reader, it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, but merely a part of the development of character and romantic journey you and the characters are on.

8)      Romance novels make you feel good. When they’re well-written, you should be left feeling uplifted, perhaps changed, and hopeful. Romances are the promise of hope and happiness.

9)      They’re not just for women. There are men who read romances, and there should be more – many women and writers have described romances as the guide for what women really want, but certainly men want love and romance, too. There is action, adventure, love, and intimacy that more than just women can appreciate.

10)   Romance reflect the changes, hopes, and fears of our society. As women’s roles in society changed, these were often reflected years earlier in romances. To read the future, perhaps you need only read romance.

If you’re a lover of romance, why do you read them? What do you love about them? If not, would you consider changing your mind? Have you learned anything about romance that might inspire you to at least pick one up to try? I welcome comments and your thoughts down below.

Otherwise, thanks for reading, and have a happy week.

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