Why are romance novels and romance novelists looked down upon?
It’s easy to dislike something you’ve never tried and difficult to try something you’ve been told you must dislike if you want to be seen as a mature, thinking human being.
People who have never and will never read any novel that could possibly be construed as a romance have a low opinion of them and the novelists who write them because they have chosen to have that opinion without thinking for themselves. They have likely been told by people they admire that they must have that opinion, and speak it loudly, if they expect to be taken seriously as connoisseurs of the written word.
I once had a Child Psychologist (not a person expert in adult human psychology) tell me my books were “damaging” to women because my readers would “develop impossibly high expectations” and “such books are what lead to high divorce rates.” Her message was that women are so weak-minded they can’t differentiate between fantasy and real life, whereas men can, which is what makes those one-man-single-handedly-saving-the-world books safer, psychologically speaking, than women reading about romance and love and how that can affect their lives, their children, and communities. Of course, if those world-saving heroes get to bed six or eight women during the course of the novels, but that’s okay. It’s just “male fantasy.”
I suspect the almost universal belief that all romance novels are “trash” may have been established by a few male professors in the day when certain magazines with titles containing words like Romance, and Confessions, and True were popular and beloved by many young women. If those short “true” accounts were “trash” (they were seldom true, and many were written by men in the forties and fifties, according to statistics I’ve read), then anything to do with romance must also qualify–at least according to the detractors. Luckily, I wasn’t prejudiced when it came to reading books written by men, but many men have a much harder time dealing with books written by women.
I grew up and was educated at a time when about fifty percent of my contemporaries (the half of my class with penises) insisted on telling me books written by my gender must, by definition, be “bad” or “poorly written” because the characters in them didn’t go in guns blazing or fists flying to settle differences. Books without those elements were boring, not at all “exciting.” If a book dealt with human feelings, human frailties, and if the conflicts could be resolved without death or arrest or both, it had to be “trash” because those touchy-feely factors scare the hell out of a great many readers. I feel sorry for people who were, and still are, so afraid of their own emotions that reading a romance might make them feel crawly or even cause them to shed a secret tear or two.
Instead of trying to ascertain why they have this strong aversion, such people perpetuate the belief, and speak it loudly from their lofty university pulpits or bar stools, asserting that most women can’t write “real” books because few women understand the way the kill-or-be-killed world works. For them, there is no such thing as men or women experiencing personal growth throughout the story in which finding love—that is love, not just sex—is the main goal. If a reader cannot accept that a character’s admitting to his or her weaknesses and learning to overcome them makes them stronger, if they cannot accept that redemption is possible, they will never understand the romance genre. Those same people likely consider “redemption” a dirty word unless the novel has at least a thousand pages and takes place in a theater of war or as a result of that war.
When some men write what they consider romances, chances are there is no happy ending, and “a lesson has been learned” so the reader will have to think and ponder what the author of the book really meant. If I have to
wonder what conclusion I, the reader, should draw, and why I needed to learn that lesson, I consider the book poorly written because the answer is too often obscure. As a reader, I want something deeper than that, and I don’t like being told “you’re born, you die, and life’s a bitch.”
So, if you think that’s romance, I’m here to disagree and tell you, “Uh-uh. Nope. No way. Not this reader.” That kind of “romance” doesn’t work for me. I want a woman and a man (or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman) with serious, deep-seated differences that keep them at arms’ length despite their desire to be together. Their problems must be a whole lot more difficult to solve than say, geography or a misunderstanding that could be resolved by an open conversation. Whatever conflict keeps them apart needs to potent enough that the reader will ask, “What the hell are they going to do?” A good writer of romance novels will solve those problems with common sense, a considerable degree of human psychology, and a lot of caring, without killing anyone or anything. We want our happy endings, because, pal, without that, what we romance writers call, a H.E.A. conclusion, (Happily Ever After) it just ain’t romance.
You don’t like ’em, don’t read ’em, but fucking quit telling the world they are “bad,” and even worse, “bad for women.”