I recently did an interview with The Mamafesto for a project called “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like,” wherein a bunch of normal people talk about what feminism means to them. One of the major themes in my interview – and something I’ve been thinking about a lot of late – is the vague cognitive dissonance that comes with writing/enjoying romance novels and considering myself a feminist.
Romance novels have gotten a bad rap for ages, and I don’t think that will ever change, even if the genre has come a long way since the bodice-rippers of old. Like many forms of entertainment enjoyed primarily by women, they’re derided by men and by “serious” women alike, and sometimes with good reason. Alpha heroes and damsels in distress are still common tropes, and happily ever after always means getting the guy, not the doctorate. It’s telling that the erotic romance genre has taken off by leaps and bounds since the advent of eReaders, since we can now read our steamy novels without having to show anyone the cover.
So what’s a feminist to do with all that shame?
Personally, I try not to be ashamed in the first place, but it’s a tall order considering so much of that attitude is deeply sewn into us for our whole lives. I have a science background, and the idea of confessing that I write smutty romance novels to the guys I used to do physics experiments with gives me the shakes. Ditto for the ladies I took all those women’s studies classes with back in college.
But the thing is, as feminists who choose not work outside of the home have been saying for decades, the essence of feminism is about giving women choices, not taking them away. So I do my best to own my choice and the choices of so many women (and even some men) who enjoy these types of stories. I try not to dissemble or blush when I admit to what I do.
And I try to do my small part to make sure the genre is something I can be proud of. I try to write women who care about more than just their love-lives and I try to pack as much literary merit into those sex scenes as I can.
So what do you think? Is reading and writing romance compatible with feminism? And if not, then how can we make it more so?