If a genre is saving an industry, wouldn’t you think it would be entitled to a little respect? Well you’d think so, or most of us would, anyway. But not so with Romance.
Romance is the Rodney Dangerfield of genres.
A recent article in Time Magazine (which I found from Scott Eagan’s blog – see my sidebar) credits romance novels with “helping some publishers hide from the worst of the recession.” According to the article, 1.4 billion dollars of romances were sold last year. That was the largest share of the book market. More than 1 out of every 4 books sold is a romance novel.
If romance is the 1.4 billion industry that’s accounting for a large portion of sales, you’d think it would be entitled to a little respect. If romance is the drain plug keeping the circling publishing industry from going under, it should be entitled to respect – and a lot of it. But like Rodney, romance don’t get no respect.
The article praising romance calls the books “bodice rippers.” The term implies that the shelves are full of men who rape, subjugate and subdue women. Instead of calling police – or in historicals, summoning the watch – the women in bodice rippers fall in love with the men who plunder them. The term implies that men have no character and women have no will. It also implies that women aren’t particularly smart. And the article was written by a woman!
Most romance writers and most romance readers are women. I said most instead of all and I stand by the generalization and don’t expect it to change. That’s based on personal experience. I made the mistake of asking my hubby to read one of my books and I won’t do it again. The man who’ll read and watch things about people in spaceships saving galaxies that don’t exist finds romances hard to believe in or to relate to. I guess my romances, in particular, are tough for him because in my books everyone is over the top – especially the hero. In my books when men fall in love they act the way women want men in love to act. I guess I’ll excuse my hubby his one lapse in taste, especially since I think it’s somewhat genetic. I think men like pictures and women like words – but all that is another blog post and one where we might have to do a he said/she said thing. The point is, since the genre is mostly written by women and for women, why would the female author of the Time article call the books “bodice rippers?” Why wouldn’t a woman writing about a female fueled industry surviving and even prospering spike her article with terms that inspire respect rather than derision? The world will never respect our industry until we respect it ourselves.
I do appreciate the article and I do cheer for the women in the drugstore who tuck a romance novel in their basket. As I’ve said many times in this blog, in tough times happy endings are a survival mechanism. As many have noted, this recession/depression/general state of economic dismay has hit men’s jobs harder than women’s. Yeah, likely a lot of that is the result of the fact that the women were paid less than the men to start with so companies saved more money by cutting more of the jobs held by men. Yeah, it’s unfair and terrible and I understand it in a very personal way. But the fact is, a lot of those women tucking those novels in their baskets are carrying the weight of a household on their shoulders. And a happily ever after (HEA) supplied by a romance writer is an inexpensive form of entertainment that a woman can read over and over again so it’s a purchase that even in tough times women can still make.
What I’m saying is that even if the female author of the Time article doesn’t respect the work of her fellow writers — how dare she disrespect that survivor in the drugstore with the basket over her arm?
Some folks in the industry think the term bodice ripper was an apt description of the first novels that created the romance genre. I think the term was always a misnomer and that it always disrespected the writers and the readers. I also think the term displays ignorance of what romances are about. On the way to the HEA, as we watch the spoiled man get his comeuppance, we’re watching a woman growing into her female power. By the end of most romances, including those so called early “bodice rippers,” the hero is dancing to the heroine’s tune.
Today’s world is tough and reading romance novels inspires us, uplifts us, and yes, we know that. What we haven’t recognized is that part of the emotional lesson women take from these books is a reminder that their spirit, their will, their way can carry the day. While times are tight and the future looks bleak we should ALL be buying and reading more romance books and ebooks. When getting through today is this tough, reading something that makes tomorrow better gives women the courage to get to tomorrow, to get through tomorrow and to survive until it gets better for all of us.
Romance novelists have enough hurdles to leap without tolerating or encouraging artificial barriers or terms designed to make the writer feel disparaging about her craft, and the reader feel embarrassed about her purchase. A romance writer’s white stallion may be her keyboard, and the mouse may be her lance, but she can still rescue her sisters.
That’s something to be proud of – not disrespected or derided.