Brought to you by Adam & Eve
What do you say when someone asks if you enjoy reading romance novels? Do you answer with a loud and proud “yes,” or do you hedge, saying you read them, but just for fun, as if being a serious enthusiast is akin to being a pervert? Do you, in other words, give in to the idea that there’s something shameful about loving a good romance story?
You’re not alone. The truth is, society has stacked the deck against those of us who love romance novels. There are still major misconceptions surrounding the genre, namely that it is a frivolous pastime enjoyed only by bored housewives. No other type of literature has endured the same level of malignant criticism or unfair categorization. The term “Harlequin romance,” which refers to one of the largest and oldest distributors of romance novels, has become shorthand for “trash” and “smut.” And all this hatred exists even while romance novels continue to be one of the fastest-growing and top-selling genres around. In fact, according to About.com, romance literature is a billion-dollar industry that’s a third larger than the inspirational book industry and about the size of the mystery and sci-fi/fantasy industries combined.
The fact that women make up the majority of romance novel readership is not an insignificant fact. While some may want to challenge this fact or minimize its significance, the truth is, the very fact that women are the major consumers of romance literature is perhaps one of the reasons the genre has been so unfairly maligned. Criticizing and ridiculing goods that are predominantly popular among women is a strong tradition in our society, which is ironic considering that women continue to be huge drivers of the economy.
Washington Post writer Alyssa Rosenberg recently responded to a male author who bemoaned the popularity of books like Fifty Shades of Grey. He criticized women who choose to read such “trash” rather than the classics, asking why women would decide to “participate in the abnegating of their minds and the debauching of English just to feel some twitching in their trousers.” In her response, Rosenberg points out how romance novels, written and read primarily for and by women, are “a tonic, a form of reassurance that someone is interested in ordinary women’s inner lives and is rooting for us to resolve our conflicts about work, love and what we deserve from our relationships.”
Presented by Adam & Eve
She’s not saying the classics aren’t important or that the literary canon doesn’t offer anything of value, but she asks us to consider how many books in the literary canon provide plenty of wish-fulfillment for men and pay attention to their inner lives. So why not accept that women need this too and that the romance genre was doing this long before Anastasia Steel and Christian Grey came on the scene?
This isn’t to say that the romance novel is only about reassuring women that their needs and desires are important. The genre, indeed, is much more than just a tonic that helps us get through our challenging twenty-first century lives. As USAToday.com puts it, “These are books that highlight the very best of what it means to be human. Stories that speak of honor and sacrifice, of selflessness and love. We all need to be loved, to feel that we belong, and that's what romance novels give us. The sense of being loved.” No matter who reads them, romance novels are a celebration of humanity’s greatest and most powerful asset: love.
Also, it must be said that romance novels are often intellectually and philosophically challenging, as the romance novel, more than most genres, is perfectly equipped to explore the complexities of love and human sexuality. It offers readers the time and imaginative space to delve into issues that deserve more than just a cursory glance. The book Theirs to Treasure, for example, explores a polygamous relationship between three men and one woman in a future that isn’t quite so hostile toward non-monogamy. While critics of the romance genre may point to how romance novels do nothing more than lull women into the white-knuckled grasp of the “wedding industrial complex,” there are countless examples of stories, like Theirs to Treasure, that subvert social norms and challenge stereotypical concepts of love and marriage.
Of course, there is also a more basic purpose for the romance novel: sexual arousal. To dismiss this aspect of the reading experience is to deny women a very important and effective outlet for our sexual imaginations. Perhaps some of the hostility toward the romance novel has to do with this very concept of women being titillated in the privacy of their own imaginations.
In the past, the idea that a woman could be aroused by the written word was certainly an offensive idea. But even today there seems to be some discomfort with the thought of women openly reading and enjoying erotica. Reading a book, after all, is one of the few private acts that can be thoroughly enjoyed in public. Indeed, the popularity of the Fifty Shades series had many people, mostly men, musing about all these women around them secretly becoming titillated on the bus or at the office or, heaven forbid, while rocking their babies to sleep at night.
The Fifty Shades series has certainly done much to illuminate the pull that the romance and erotica industry really has. Whatever your thoughts about the series, one thing is for certain: Fifty Shades brought the popularity of the erotic novel out of the shadows and into the mainstream.
The fear of women openly accessing their sexual imaginations via romance literature is perhaps finally giving way to a wider acceptance and celebration of this centuries old activity. And it’s no longer an activity deemed only for women to enjoy alone.
Adameve.com rightfully points out that while a titillating novel like Fifty Shades of Grey can certainly be enjoyed alone before turning in for the night, reading it aloud with a partner can be a very enjoyable form of foreplay.
With all that the romance novel offers, there’s no reason to be ashamed of what you love!
Supplied by Adam & Eve