Late one evening, when I’d just finished writing my post on being a feminist romance novelist, I was chatting with friends on Twitter when a tweet by agent Sara Megibow from the Nelson Agency popped up. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but she emphatically said that a woman can be a feminist and still love to read romance novels.
Since it was a subject that had been on my mind, I replied and soon we had a little conversation going. She’s very kindly agreed to share her thoughts here.
Me, “I represent literary fiction” (true.)
Person, “OH, anyone I’ve read?”
Me, “I represent science fiction and fantasy novels” (true)
Person, “Hmmm…like the Hobbit?
Me, “I represent romance novels” (true)
Person, “Good grief, WHY? Aren’t they all just smut or porn?”
This conversation is about the same if I tell someone, “I read literary fiction”, “I read science fiction” and “I read romance.” My immediate reaction is always to feel hurt when someone says “WHY” – I mean whether I’m talking about my career or what I enjoy reading for pleasure, I say “romance” and someone says “blech.” I feel hurt. And mad. And then…defensive.
Over the years, I’ve come up with any number of responses to people when they give me heck. By now, I’ve narrowed my response down to one sentence, “I love romance novels because as a feminist with a women’s studies degree, I find the genre to be inherently pro-woman.” Now, THAT generates a great conversation! And, it’s true. The basic tenants of the genre – happy endings, healthy relationships and great sex are all pro-woman.
Romance as a genre is formulaic (as is science fiction, as is fantasy, as is young adult fiction, etc.). One of the tenants of the romance genre is that a story will have a happy ending. In this case, it “usually” means “the girl gets the guy” (or the girl gets the girl). Now, as a woman – what on earth is there about that premise that could possibly be offensive? As a woman, I celebrate happy, healthy, full-filling relationships!
So then, people come back with, “well, what if a woman doesn’t want a relationship – what if her career is more important than marriage?” First, I snicker because I know they are trying to bait me. Of course that’s true in the real world! 100% true, fair and good! Hear Hear and Clap Clap I say! I maintain that MANY women seek out loving relationships and therefore this premise is a realistic and compelling one for the genre. That being said, I am happy to add that many contemporary romance novels INCLUDE women who pursue competitive, high powered and highly fulfilling careers (ex. HARD EVIDENCE by Pamela Clare) so there really are romance novels that suit lots of different kinds of women.
Sex. That’s the next thing someone will bring up. “Well, it’s just gratuitous sex.” As a feminist I believe very strongly that healthy sexual relationships for women should be something we care about and promote! Now, a romance novel isn’t just gratuitous sex – it’s a finely crafted piece of literature with compelling, realistic characters, a unique and engaging story and detailed world building (at least, the ones I rep and the ones I read are).
But, literary arguments aside, yes, usually sex is involved. Some novels show the sex on page (some in great detail) and some fade to black as the *moment* approaches. Whatever a person’s personal taste is fine.
I maintain that healthy sex is an important women’s issue. Raising our daughters to have a thorough, healthy, self confident, realistic and safe understanding of their sexuality is important (incidentally, raising ourselves to be healthy sexual adult women is also important and…difficult).
Addressing the way-too-prevalent scars caused by rape, incest and other molestation is an important women’s issue. And having a mouth-watering sexual relationship with one’s husband or partner should be an important women’s issue too. Sexual fulfillment is a part of sexual health, yes? There’s nothing about sex that isn’t political and our brave and luminous authors are tackling these very issues right under the noses of potential readers who would snub them for it?
CHEERS for romance authors!!!
One point I will concede is that frequently, romance novels portray men and women engaging in premarital sex. I applaud healthy consensual sex, but I agree that if this premise morally offends a person that this might be a deal breaker (although also a deal breaker for most commercial and literary fiction too). A suggestion – try inspirational romance! This subgenre is for readers who prefer their art to adhere to a stricter moral compass. See, something for everyone!
I could go on, but we all get the idea. People argue – do men read romance novels? what about those ridiculous covers? are they still just bodice rippers? etc. etc. So, I’ll close with this – above and beyond my political leanings, let’s just say – I flat out ENJOY romance novels. Not just as an agent (although they sure do sell!) and not just as a reader, but as a woman.
For the record – here are some of my favorites:
PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS by Sherry Thomas
SCANDAL by Carolyn Jewel
PROOF BY SEDUCTION by Courtney Milan
WHAT HAPPENS IN LONDON by Julia Quinn
RIDE THE FIRE by Pamela Clare
NAKED IN DEATH by JD Robb
MOON CALLED by Patricia Briggs
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people you read romance novels? Do you find yourself having to defend what you read?
As a big thank-you to Sara for taking the time to chat with me, I’m giving away two novels represented by the Nelson Agency. One person who leaves a comment here will receive Seducing the Duchess, the fantastic debut from Sara’s client Ashley March.
Another commenter will get their choice of either Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas or Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan. Let me know in your comment which you’d like, and I’ll announce the winners on Monday March 21st!
Giveaway is open internationally. You just need to live somewhere that Amazon or Book Depository delivers to.
[Update: The giveaway is now closed but feel free to keep commenting!]