When people find out you’re a romance reader, you get one of two responses. The first, and best, is excited chatter about their most recent faves. (High-five, y’all! Find me on twitter.) The second usually involves a lip curl, a raising of the eyebrow, or a wrinkling of the nose, followed immediately by one of several — intentionally or unintentionally — insulting comments. There’s not much middle ground here. For the most part, people either love romance or despise it.
The level of vitriol, disgust, and misinformation flying at us from outside the romance community is unparalleled (though, YA readers see their own brand of this). Romance is the best-selling genre in fiction, but its popularity is only rivaled by the copious amount of sanctimonious think pieces dismissing this genre and its (84% female) readers.
People say things to romance readers that no one would say to readers of any other genre.
“I can’t read that trashy stuff.” Tell me, exactly, what is so trashy about a person going after what they want and finding happiness? Americans seem to be especially uncomfortable with a woman who takes control of her sexuality and refuses to be ashamed of her desires. Why is using oiled-up boobs to advertise cheeseburgers perfectly okay, but when that same woman finds a satisfying, consensual, fulfilling relationship, it’s suddenly trashy?
“There’s nothing wrong with a little guilty pleasure reading.” This one may seem innocent on the surface, but two things: One, there is nothing guilty about two people falling madly in love with each other. Two, I don’t need your permission/forgiveness to enjoy these books. I didn’t say that there was something “wrong” with it in the first place. You’re implying that there’s something dirty or shameful or less about reading romance. Many readers are ashamed to admit they read romance precisely due to judgemental comments like these. (I say shout it loud and proud, fellow love-lovers. Don’t let anyone’s close-mindedness dampen your joy.)
“You read those books? I thought you were a feminist.” I will admit that some of the romance books from 30-40 years ago weren’t exactly shining beacons of feminism, but today’s romance is filled with kick-ass women who are getting shit done. As Rioter Trisha Brown said, “Why would we assume that a romantic story can’t empower women? Why do we so easily dismiss books that end happily for strong women who know what they want?”
“How can you read more than one? All romance books are the same.” Yeah, okay, sure. In the same way that all thrillers or mysteries or space operas or cop shows or beautiful, incredible sonnets are the same. Every category or genre has its conventions, but why is that only a criticism when we’re talking about romances?
“You don’t seem like the type to read romance.” I never know exactly what they mean by this. Is it because I’m a successful, smart professional? Is it that I’m in a healthy, satisfying romantic relationship? Is it because I’m athletic, wear my hair in a ponytail every day, and don’t mind if I chip a nail? What is the “type” you’re talking about here?
Listen, honey. There are millions of romance readers and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot put us all in the same box. We are female and male and non-binary. We are doctors and accountants and retail staff and stay-at-home-parents. We are wealthy and poor and everything in between. We are skinny and fat and athletic and possess self-confidence in varying degrees, but we are all beautiful in a way only we can be. We are happily single and lovingly married and unapologetically poly and represent every decimal point on the Kinsey scale. We are tomboys and hyper feminine and every stereotype you try to use to label and dismiss us.
You know what we actually do have in common, though? Every single one of us? There’s just one thing: We read romance, despite the fact it frequently doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
Here’s the thing. There are activities I don’t enjoy. You tell me you like watching baseball or knitting or reading literary short stories translated from German or eating kale or base-jumping or anything else I’d rather sit in a featureless, empty room than do? I’m going to smile and say, “that’s cool” or maybe “have fun.” You know what I’m not going to do? Insult you for enjoying a perfectly respectable, okay hobby. I’m not going to think less of you or ridicule you or grimace at you until we’re both too uncomfortable to stand near each other.
So don’t do it to us. We read romance and we are not trashy or guilty or anti-feminist or unintelligent or homogeneous. We read romance and we’re awesome. #sorrynotsorry