In the age of feminism and female empowerment, there is a certain stigma that comes with reading romance novels. Scratch that, I think there’s always been a stigma, but I think it’s more easily seen today. I feel like when a lot of people think of empowered women, they think of tough “Girlboss” CEOs or women who take part in activities that were previously ruled by the patriarchy. This isn’t to say that those women aren’t empowered, but I do think society is quicker to label a woman as such when she sheds her femininity for the sake of her advancement in a particularly male-dominated field. My question is, why do women have to shed their femininity to finally be seen as strong? Is this not enforcing the concept that to show femininity is to be weak?
This applies to women who read and write romance novels. For years, as someone who loves reading and writing fiction, I always felt like people were more interested in the science fiction and mystery stories I’d write. If I wrote anything in romance, it wasn’t taken as seriously as a genre because, to some degree, people thought of it as wish fulfillment for lonely women. And to some degree, it was. But where is the problem in that? I feel like most genres are read for their own fair share of wish fulfillment. To look at the opposite end of the spectrum, why do men take such an interest in James Bond? As a character, he’s not particularly interesting, and I think he was written that way. He was written so a demographic could insert themselves into his role. James Bond was written for wish fulfillment based on stereotypical masculine ideals.
These two concepts together are why I think it can be hard for people to see reading or writing romance novels as somewhat of a serious hobby or job. People still kind of have this idea that to take part in something very traditionally feminine, especially in consuming this specific genre of media, means that they themselves are weak and wish to be dependent on someone, because it is usually assumed the media itself is about worshipping men or yearning for the comfort of men. This is a misconception, considering that more LGBTQ+ romance literature is being written than ever. And, while I have some opinions on the tropes within the romance genre and how they can be toxic, I don’t think the genre itself is toxic.
What makes romance novels valuable for me is the discovery of perfect companionship. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of romantic love and soulmates because I like the idea of this plane-transcending connection that brings two people together. I think that’s what other people like, more or less, but not in so many words. The reason people like romance is because the experience of following a character through the journey of finally finding that connection is a very universal feeling. You can want it, have felt it in the past, or be feeling it in your life right now. I see a lot of emotional merit in stories like that.
When it all comes down to it, I see romance as valid an interest as any other genre of the medium. Regardless of how feminine it is or who publishes it, there’s nothing wrong or unfeminist with consuming it. Isn’t the point of feminism that women should be able to do whatever they want, and that we shouldn’t expect or pressure them into acting in any other way?