As anyone who is familiar with the genre can attest, romance novels had consistently faced mockery, lack of acknowledgment and derision as a women’s genre in what can old be described as a last-ditch effort by the old order to keep women’s interests, pleasures, and passions as something to be laughed at. Romance has more than its fair sharing of humorous nicknames, like trashy novels and mommy porn and despite pulling the barge of publishing for decades, it is rarely acknowledged as the titan of creativity, joy, and commercial success that it is.
And yet, we still keep reading it.
That must mean we’re doing something right.
Still, as with politics, religion and TV shows, there is little use preaching to the choir. Romance novel lovers love romance novels. We don’t need to convince them of why or how because they already understand the progressive, important and joyful experience that is the genre. The non-believer, however, is a different case.
We all have people in our lives who agree or, at least, don’t actively disagree, with the idea that romance novels are less than for telling women’s stories. (This is a fundamentally feminist issue, but if I get started on that, I’ll never stop.) Still, these people aren’t necessarily a lost cause. In fact, many of them would become active romance novel supporters – they just have to overcome the stigma surrounding the genre first.
And that’s where we come in. Because, whether they know it now or not, our friends, our family, our co-workers, they deserve a chance to enjoy romance, without hiding their cover under the desk or murmuring the title of the book they’re reading so quietly that no one can hear. Here are a few ways you can help make the romance genre seem a little less scary.
Explain the Terms:
Unfortunately, romance has never been able to shake off some of their bad PR. The term mommy porn is offensive – what, moms need a different type of sexual stimulant because they are women at a different stage of their lives? Nope, newsflash, women like sex. All types of women. (And many don’t, but for the sake of argument, this is the important point here.)
The problem is, when you put derisive labels on such a genre, people don’t want to go anywhere near it. So do away with the labels. Explain to your friend/sister/mom/brother/dad that romance labels are nonsensical and obvious ways to undermine the genre and that it is the non-discerning who fall prey to their wicked charms.
Dispense With the Rumors:
No, romance novels are not for dumb women. According to Nielsen, Bookstats, PEW Research Center and RWA, in an Entertainment Weekly article from 2014, romance readers are, on average, college-educated women who make $55,000/yr. They consume roughly one book a week to the average five books a year for the typical American reader.
Romance novels do not give us unrealistic expectations about men or relationships. Romance novels are not all about sex. Romance novels are not poorly-written. Romance novels are not all the same. Romance novels are not just for women. (Men make up 16% of romance readers. According to Statista.com, 77% of women are readers to 68% of men.) Get over these disparaging and false myths and you’re halfway there.
Pull Out the Stats:
If romance is so bad then why is it a multi-billion dollar a year industry? How can they account for 35% of fiction sales? Why do they continue to be the best-selling genre fiction on the market? Liking romance does not make you the outlier.
Time for a History Lesson:
Jane wrote romance novels. The idea of the romance novel is not new, unique or scary. In fact, we can trace romance novels back hundreds of years, to writing factions and eras all over the world. Women have been telling love stories for centuries and for good reason – people want to read them. The romance novels you see on the shelf today are the great grandkids of required high school reading books.
Familiarize Them With Genre:
Some romance enters the common psyche and there’s just not a lot we can do about it. While I could explain the day away with reasons why Fifty Shades is a poor representation of genre, it’s not worth my time.
Still, if someone is unfamiliar with the subsets and mini-genres and far and wide-reaching themes of romance, seeing such popularity for one specific type of book can be a turn-off. Certainly, there are people you wouldn’t recommend that book to even if it wasn’t problematic.
You know your friend or family member well, so share authors from a genre you think they’d enjoy. Sweet romance is just as valid as historical BDSM novels, as contemporary working-woman romance, as pirate romance, as cowboy romance. If you don’t read the genre you think they’d enjoy, put out a call and ask for recommendations. Romancelandia is quite accommodating.
Share Your Favorites:
Even if your favorite romance novels are military-suspense and you think your sister would be better suited to historical westerns, there’s still power in the obsession. Readers around the world light up when sharing their favorite books, getting excited about character, plot, themes or setting. Whether they stick to your recommendation or try something else, they’ll get a glimpse into your love for the genre and might just be convinced to give it a try.
Audiobooks are a fantastic way to sneak more reading into your day. Read when you’re cooking dinner, walking to the train or even for five minutes when you get dressed in the morning. The value of audiobooks as evidence for the genre is that they’re visceral and interactive. Narrators can really make a book stand out and there’s a sense of anonymity that might even help convince them to just give it a go.
Give it a Feminist Whirl:
Unfortunately, depending on who you’re convincing, this has the potential to backfire. Still, in my group of friends and relatives, my major argument for romance is that it is feminist. (Sometimes I dress it differently, some people need hand-holding.) Seriously, though. A genre written by women, telling women’s stories, giving them partners who respect and support them while allowing them to live independent lives, filled with family, career and personal success and evolution? Feels pretty fucking feminist to me.
Read Because You Want To:
If a book makes you happy, you shouldn’t feel shame about reading it. Duh. Women, historically, have been shamed for enjoying things – the word basic ring any bells – but with such a huge industry experiencing a continued streak of success for so long, there’s no reason not to do something you like.
There are a thousand reasons to read romance. Some people wouldn’t get it even if you listed every single one, but it’s worth a shot. Much of convincing the non-believer is dispelling that which society has taught us to believe, that romance novels are less-than, a secret club of dumb, degenerate women and why would I want to be part of that anyway? Of course, that’s nonsense. Romance is progressive, ever-evolving and beloved by so many for so many reasons. If the person you’re trying to convince doesn’t get that, well, it’s their loss.♥
Have you convinced any non-believers to try the genre? How it’d go? Share your experiences, tips, and tricks!