by Shanyn Hosier
When I was a teenager, I started perusing the young adult romance shelves at the library. I was desperately curious about love and attraction and sex—what did boys want, and did I want it, too? But my father caught me with one of them and asked me why I was reading such “trash.” Mortified, I never read another, turning to the “classics”—stories written by a bunch of old, white dudes—instead.
Now, I hardly regret reading Verne and Wells, Dumas and Dafoe. But the fact is I remained woefully uninformed about how men and women relate to one another. Cather, Austen, and Brontë helped somewhat, but probably did more to create unrealistic (anachronistic) expectations of men on my part.
And then came Twilight. And Fifty Shades of Grey. Suddenly, it was no longer “shameful” to read romance—it was practically compulsory if you wanted to stay abreast of pop culture. And yet, both these authors and their books are roundly dismissed as crap by “better” writers and “more cultured” reviewers.
Nowadays, I devour “trashy” romance novels unapologetically, and I learn something new from each and every one. Are the relationships depicted always healthy or realistic? No, not by a long shot. But you know what does happen in the best of them?
The heroine chooses what she wants. And that, dear ones, is REVOLUTIONARY!
The female protagonist often drives the romance story. She wants happiness and fulfillment, both physical and emotional. And she gets it, because she deserves it and, very often, earns it by her own actions. Can you get any more feminist?
By and large, books within the romance genre are written by women, for women, and they are far and away outselling everything else out there [earning $1.438 billion in 2012, compared to $728 million for mystery, $590 million for science fiction/fantasy, and $470 million for classic literary fiction, according to RWA]. Women like Nora Roberts and Jackie Collins are fabulously wealthy from their earnings, each new book gobbled up by their fans, but are they universally respected as the bestselling authors they are?
Many of my author friends choose to write under a pen name, worried about how becoming identified as a writer of romance might impact their families, their non-writing careers. My own family will at times refer to my work as “porn” or “smut,” I assume because I include explicit sex in my plots. I try not to get defensive about it, because I don’t think they mean anything hurtful by their comments, but sometimes I have to bite my tongue. From now on, I’m going to make them watch this video…
Maya Rodale has published a book examining this issue, called “Dangerous Books for Girls”. She’s also working on a documentary on the same topic. Please check out her website for more information!