“Art is a creative endeavor that elicits an emotion, so yes, romance novels are art.” -Andrea DaRif
If you don’t like romance and refuse to read it, it might be time to re-evaluate that attitude and try out what the critics like to refer to as a “bodice-ripper”. Got an argument about why you shouldn’t read it? Cool. I’ve got an article for you.
Yes, I poke fun at the tropes that romance uses. I’ll poke just as much fun at other genres on here, just wait until I have some time to get into the overused YA clichés. It’s possible to have some fun and also respect the genre at the same time, and I have the greatest respect for romance. Like any of the best literature romance gets deeply into the human psyche; the mistakes, flaws, hopes, fears and needs that bind us all as sentient beings. So, let’s dive into the arguments against romance and have some fun.
“Romance is smut.” Smut is available, if that’s your thing, but the actual definition of romance is the story of a relationship between two people. These people are attracted to each other, which sometimes leads to sex. Explicit descriptions are optional and there are romances out there with zero sex if that’s what you want. For every high-minded argument about literary porn there are roughly 1000 other people willing to buy it. Selling books is a business, and sex sells. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ You find me another genre that doesn’t include even one romantic relationship and a smidgen of sex, anyway.
In the good ones sex is not center stage. The primary plot is the twists and turns and heart-aching dips a relationship can take. For a good take on this idea, read Jessica Tripler’s article from Book Riot The Literary Function of Sex Scenes in Romance. Or pick up a Nora Roberts, any Nora Roberts, and give her a try.
“Romance gives women unrealistic expectations.” Point A: Orgasms should nOT BE AN UNREALISTIC EXPECTATION. Dude.
Point B: Let’s just all assume that if readers can be trusted to devour a Stephen King novel and not feel an immediate need to hunker down in the nearest sewer luring small children into the deeps with balloons they can also be trusted to know the difference between a romance novel and real-life. Murder mysteries don’t turn people into crime scene investigators, Sci-Fi doesn’t make us suspect aliens in every shadow, YA dystopians don’t lead people to rise up against oppressive regimes and get cool tattoos. Why is romance supposed to be the only genre that will lead readers astray while everything else gets a pass? Article from the Yale Herald in defense of romance. The Yale Herald, people.
“Romance is oppressive to women and puts them down.” Romance novels are primarily written by women, for women. Why would women write books putting themselves down? And if they did, why would other women buy them? The logical conclusion to that is; romance is primarily written by women about women making choices in their relationships. They make the choices, they hold the power, Q.E.D. they are not oppressed.
And anyway, weren’t we just reading about how romance gives women unrealistic expectations? So . . . does that mean they give women an unrealistic expectation of being oppressed? 0_O
To be fair, there are books out there that contain themes that lend themselves to this idea. Especially in the 1970s-1980s, North American romance novels went through a bad time with some rape plots. It would be easy to take those books and say ‘that proves it’ and flounce off to drink lattes in a beret and condemn the whole genre. But it’s taking the coward way out to do that. If you read those books, the woman ended up with the power in the end of the story, flipping the script. They examined a real-life issue from a woman’s perspective, and gave readers the tools to understand and possibly move past it. Plus there was usually a lot of revenge and killing going on by the end. Rape and revenge, it’s a trope. Really.
There are gray areas, and it’s a discussion that needs to happen so if you have an example of something that promotes this argument point it out. Just like any other form of art, themes change as new perspectives come in and flaws are exposed. For this one, head on over to the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog and check out Imma Read What I Want by Elise.
“Romance is shallow, non-literary fluff.” So if everyone isn’t sobbing while evaluating their life choices by the end of it, it’s not literature. Do the people who make these arguments even hear themselves? What is so terrible about being happy? Readers are not lazy or stupid because they want to feel the gentle warm glow of a Happily Ever After at the end of their book.
Every genre has merits and deserves to be read. Fantasy lets you believe in magic when everything around you is so mundane it hurts. Sci-Fi makes the impossible seem like it’s just a galaxy and one scientific discovery away. Thrillers give you that roller coaster fear without the actual risk of death, always a plus. Horror dives deep into the human psyche, kind of the polar opposite direction from Romance. Literary Fiction gets you drunk on someone else’s pain with beautifully alcoholic concoctions of words.
At the core Romance is about the most basic, central human need: to belong.
To be wanted. To know that someone else chose you to love, flaws and all. That’s pretty powerful. For this argument, please read this article from Publisher’s Weekly by Kristan Higgins.
Option A. Feeling the urge to check out a romance novel? Here’s a list with 100 great choices; NPRs reader voted list of favorites
Option B. Still not convinced? Read one last article, containing mentions of flaming sticks and eyeballs, from the Queen of the genre herself; Nora Roberts defense of romance
Option C. Romance is just not the genre for you and that’s OK. Thanks for giving this defense of romance a chance anyway.