When people ask me about my book, I reply apologetically: it’s a romance novel. It just became a second-nature reaction. I’ve never thought about it until I read this interesting post by blogger Jackie C. Horne pointing out romance is considered a minor genre. It seems I’m not alone in this, and other authors experience the same sting. Jackie offered it may be that way because romance is written by women for women, and in a world of male dominance, that threatens the power (un)balance and therefore is belittled. It makes sense.
Yes, Jackie is a feminist. Before some of you become defensive as you read this post, here’s something about feminism—this word stained with stigma. I won’t go into details because the subject is vast and complex. But feminism shouldn’t be and is not about hating men or requesting special privileges to women. It’s about equality. It’s about humanism. It’s about happier human beings, both female and male, because equality brings them closer, promotes harmony and removes the burden of conventional roles. Equality: celebrate the differences between the genres and promote equal rights. It’s not about men or women. It’s about human beings.
There! Now back to the romance genre.
Romance novels are to women what porn is to men. Women are verbal—since childhood, they show a natural ease with words—while men are visual. When it comes to being turned on, women are more about words and emotions, and men are more about images and action. That’s a generalization and, of course, it’s not absolute. But you get the idea. The fact is porn is not much respected because it is regarded as empty. Romance stories are not much respected because they’re regarded as fluff. There’s more, though.
Why aren’t thrillers looked down, for example? They don’t really need go deep in emotions, that’s why—their job is to keep you turning pages. Romance, on the other hand, focuses on deep emotions, and those are not valued in our society. Emotions are “feminine” and don’t get the productivity machine going. If anything, they disrupt it. Am I saying something new when I affirm our society privileges cheap thrills based on money, sex and violence? Look at the movie rating system in the US. It’s okay to show a mass killing scene to a wide audience, but a love scene with a long close-up of a woman’s face while she orgasms is restricted. I’m not making this up: just watch This Film is Not Yet Rated by Kirby Dick, and you’ll see. I highly recommend the film.
Here’s an idea. Most romance stories emphasize physical aspects but deal superficially with feelings. Yet romance is the emotional genre by excellence. Authors can go beyond irresistible attraction and awesome looks to explore more the characters’ feelings, not only the explosion of passion and the flood of tears. As explosive and flooding those may be, only describing them doesn’t achieve depth. And what could be deeper than human emotions? They’re fascinating and complex because each person experiences them in a unique way, with particular twists, and yet they’re universal. Romance stories are the perfect channel for exploring that and further tugging at readers’ emotions.
A few more steps toward steering away from the romance genre stereotype: infuse romance books with some substance and food for thought, so readers can take something from the story besides its plot and hot/romantic scenes. Empower heroines, don’t have them revolving around heroes or going totally irrational with lust in their presence. Quit repeating how fabulous heroes’ abs-pecs-faces-asses are. Polish the writing, aim to enrich it with literary quality. It’s possible to raise the bar. If every romance author focuses on that, the romance genre will benefit as a whole—and readers too.
Romance novels are a lot of fun, but they could be so much more. For the romance genre to be respected, it needs to earn respect. Great looks, surges of passion and hot sex alone won’t do the trick.
Let’s start a movement. 🙂
My novel RED: A Love Story is being released in print and ebook format on March 30 2016. It includes light BDSM and lots of role playing with the main focus on emotional connection. If you feel like taking a look at it, you’re welcome to read a sample here.