I have been professionally writing romance novels for about four and half years. In that time, I’ve come to appreciate romance as not only a feminist genre, but the feminist genre, complete with women in positions of power, healthy, supportive female friendships and a celebration of sex and sexuality at every stage – whether behind closed doors, as in the works of some of our authors today, or rich with high heat and erotic language, as with others.
Originally, this panel was intended to focus on that feminism. But as Elaine and I spoke, events were unfolding within the romance genre that made a truth many authors had faced for far too long, inescapable at both an industry and personal level. We considered ourselves a feminist genre but, apparently, only for some women, only for some heroines and only for some authors. And if we are not feminist for everyone, we are not feminist at all.
This was a short section of my script introducing five amazing writers on a panel this past weekend that focused on intersectional feminism. The introduction goes on to discuss The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report from The Ripped Bodice bookstore and the statistics on how many authors of colors have finaled in or won the annual RITA award in romance. These are not happy numbers to look at – and that is the reason I gathered this group of authors to discuss how we change the narrative and level the playing field.
Though turnout to the event was small, we had an online audience of over 500 viewers, with many replays in the days since the panel. The authors I interviewed are now discussing a potential retreat, where we can spend several days speaking on issues we tried to cover in a matter of 90 minutes.
And we covered quite a lot. Intersectional feminism means different things for different people but at its core, it is about identity, privilege, access and how the world views you.
As a white woman in the romance novel world, I am allowed through many gates, as a woman in the outside world, I am barred at the door. There are many crisscrossing levels of intersectionality, including race, religion, sexuality, legal status, and region of origin and yet, romance, a genre long accustomed to calling itself progressive and feminist, is still struggling desperately to give value, voice, and opportunity to stories that do not look like mine, to heroines that do not look like me.
Our panelists, five authors from the New York City chapter of the Romance Writers of America organization, discussed large ideas and actionable steps. We covered themes like solidarity between the queer author communities and communities of authors of color and how all stories from authors of color must contain a struggle or darkness that is never requested from white authors. We spoke about how readers, writers, and industry professionals must all make moves to seek out, support, review, and share these books and authors, and how we can make the genre better by making room at the table for everyone.
I invite you to watch the panel and consider how you might take these steps in your own reading and writing habits. The truth is that acknowledging privilege is uncomfortable, but looking back and knowing that I did nothing to make a change will be far worse. Women, as a whole, have long faced micro and macroaggression in everything from the workplace to the playground and it is time we understand and utilize that empathy to strive for inclusivity and representation for all.
If you are interested in hosting a similar panel in your own hometown or community, please be in touch with me. Otherwise, speak with the bookstore, libraries and book clubs. Host authors of color on your websites or in your newsletters. Share their new releases. Review on Amazon. Together, we can make a romance genre that is truly feminist for everyone.