Another Women’s History Month is coming to an end, but before it goes, I wanted to reflect on something I noticed this year: an uptick in social media posts, by women and for women, calling for all of us to support one another.
I always give these posts a big thumbs-up, and most of the time I give the person sharing them a long-distance “hell, yeah!” of solidarity. But sometimes my reaction is more of a raised eyebrow. A friendly eyebrow—but a raised one, nonetheless.
Because some of these memes and articles are put up by people who mock Romance novels.
Here’s the thing: you can’t claim to be a card-carrying, platinum-level FRIEND OF THE SISTERHOOD if you also shit on Romance novels. These things can’t co-exist, and here’s why.
First, the easy part: Romance is a billion-dollar industry and the majority of authors are women. It’s the rare place where women have a greater-than-usual amount of power, and I personally think that’s reason enough not to figuratively poop on our books.
But here’s another rare and critically important thing Romance writing does: it validates the notion—again and again, through the medium of popular stories—that we all deserve to have sex lives that have nothing to do with baby-making.
THERE. I SAID IT. COME ON, YOU CAN FIGHT ME.
For real, though: there aren’t many populations out there declaring—en masse, and in public—that wanting to have sex absent the direct involvement of a uterus is a normal, human, even necessary thing.
But Romance writers are. And we’re doing it under a constant barrage of ridicule, sometimes from the very women who claim to support us.
Romance writers aren’t the only ones putting women’s stories front-and-center, thank goodness; more entertainment outlets (TV, movies, comics, plays, and more) are doing that these days. But when it comes to claiming—loudly and clearly and on the record—that having sex for pleasure is essential to a fully lived life? That lane is a lot less crowded.
Authors and readers are always on the side of Romance characters as they pursue their desires, even if they live in a time or place where those desires are policed. What’s more, the worlds in our books tend to give everyone, regardless of demographic, a fair shot at fulfillment in a broader sense—across all aspects of life.
Sadly—even maddeningly—that’s not the reality for a lot of us. Still. In 20-f**king-19. Many of us are literally being punished for pursuing romantic and sexual lives on our own terms: Gay people are denied service at bakeries and such, on account of who they love. Trans people are told on the regular, by our government and other powerful institutions, that their very identity is a lie and an abomination. And every day, women in this country face serious legal ramifications just for having sex for the hell of it. We face life in jail—possibly even the death penalty—for trusting ourselves and our doctors with reproductive decisions rather than our state legislators. And we’re at risk of criminal investigation if we’re unfortunate enough to suffer a miscarriage.
In the face of all this heinous intrusion, it might seem like a small thing for a woman to stumble across a Beverly Jenkins novel at her local gas station, after a hurricane has torn through her community, say, leaving it underwater and in the dark. But she’ll find solace, laughter, and warmth in the pages of that Historical Romance. What’s more, she’ll be joining a community of readers who share her nagging sense that when it comes to sex, gender, race, sexuality, and a whole lot of other things, our society has different rules for different people.
And big changes often start with our ability to find like-minded souls—souls who are just as ready to fight injustice as we are.
Being a woman who writes publicly about sex and love—and who claims authority on these matters for all women—isn’t always easy. Society still considers us fair game for derision. And while Romance writers are a formidable bunch, we can’t spread the gospel, all by ourselves, that a healthy sexuality is essential to an overall-healthy life.
What would help us, though, is if our sisters—or at least those who pound-out “SUPPORT OTHER WOMEN!!!” on their keyboards every March—share our message, too. Or at the very least, refrain from dissing us.
Because if we, as women, want our collective future to be better than our history, we need to listen to one another and to give each another the benefit of the doubt. We need to create space for more of us to tell our stories. We need to speak truths that have gone unspoken for far too long. And we need to do all of this so loudly, and with so many voices, that eventually these truths and these stories—our very needs as human beings—can no longer be ignored.
P.S. I suspect some of you are thinking: Wait—aren’t Romance novels full bad prose, formulaic plots, and retrograde ideas? I once found a scene in my grandma’s yellowy paperback that did not adhere to modern standards of consent!
To this I say: HOLD ON THERE, CHAD. YOU GOTTA CALL THAT SHIT OUT IN ALL THE GENRES, OK? DON’T MAKE ME PULL DOWN MY PHILIP ROTH SO WE CAN REVIEW SOME TOP-SHELF MISOGYNY, MY DUDE.
Unfortunately, problematic stories can be found in every corner of publishing. But Chad? Formulas are not the devil. Every genre has them, and every genre depends on them.
In today’s Romance world, books culminate (more often than not) with healthy choices and a happy outlook. Oh—and there’s a helluva lot of gorgeous, thought-provoking, hilarious writing to get you there. Also, good sex. Lots and lots of good sex.
P.P.S. Lastly: praising a Romance novel by saying it’s “not like other Romance” is still a diss. Also, I’m not asking everyone of the female persuasion to read and love our genre. I’m just saying it’d be great if you stopped dissing it.