Another March is coming to an end, and with it another Women’s History Month. But before they go, I want to reflect on something I noticed this time around—namely, an uptick in social media posts by women, calling for other women to support one another—broadly, fiercely, and openly.
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 also mock Romance novels.
Here’s the thing: you can’t claim to be a card-carrying 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, by American economic standards, and I personally think that’s reason enough not to figuratively poop on our books.*
But here’s another important and relatively rare thing our lifework 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: I’m not aware of any group that declares en masse, in public, and under a constant barrage of ridicule that wanting to have sex absent the direct involvement of a uterus is a normal, human, and even necessary thing.
No one except Romance writers, that is.
Efforts to put women’s perspectives at the center of more stories isn’t as lonely a journey as it used to be; thankfully, more entertainment outlets are doing it these days. But we Romance writers seem to have fewer folks standing with us when we claim, loudly and clearly and on the record, that sex-as-pleasurable-activity is essential to a fully lived life.
Our heroines and heroes sometimes live in a time or place where their desires are policed, yes, but author and reader are always on their side as they pursue them. 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, that’s not the reality for a lot of people. Still. In 20-f**king-19.
But! For the woman who spots a Beverly Jenkins novel at her local gas station, after a hurricane has torn through her community, leaving it underwater and in the dark? She’ll find solace, laughter, and warmth in the pages of that book. She’ll also find a community of like-minded souls, who share her nagging sense that when it comes to sex, gender, and a whole lot of other things, our society has different rules for different people. And that that’s deeply unfair.
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 outright derision. We’re a formidable bunch, but 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.
*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.
**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 on the whole. And to clarify, praising one romance by saying it’s “not like other romance” is definitely still a diss.