Thursday, December 19, 2013

Romance This: Women's So-Called Liberation and Romance Literature Genre

[photo: Reading on the 4 Train, by
Jens Schott Knudsen (pamhule) via Flickr]
It’s ridiculous that women's satisfaction with their state of liberation can be called into question based on a choice of literature genre.
How can any rational human even assume today’s women are liberated when subject to
  • Criticism — Women can't choose reading material freely without criticism of their personal lives or their gender’s condition;
  • Demeaned — Their reading material's quality is deprecated, treated as not-literature with scare quotes and non-literature description (“guilty pleasures”);
  • Denied information autonomy — Women's reading privacy is violated as if women are not entitled to acquire any information they desire for any personal reason;
  • Privacy violated — Physical personal space in a public commons can be freely breached to satisfy any man's curiosity without pushback.
Women’s selection of romance literature is marginalized, in spite of the fact that today’s content categorized under this genre is little different from that deemed LITERATURE! — the big caps, award-winning men-bestowed curriculum-worthy literature like Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing or Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.
Women and romance literature are denigrated in spite of the fact romance literature is a thriving business proposition, first as published and then as adapted into other media. Just ask Nicholas Sparks how things are hanging these days.
But we women who are the preponderance of romance lit readers don’t need some whiny op-ed to question our liberation and our satisfaction, let alone a poorly researched, self-selected, unaware answer, or subsequent suggestions about reading material alternatives. We put up with more than enough crap already.
Our culture expects to see we women as taking less space due to our under-representation in film and TV roles. We women are too infrequently behind the camera as well.
The science and technology that impacts our lives is too rarely designed and made by women; our research is commonly ignored.
Given these existing conditions at a minimum, it’s no wonder at all why we seek a particular genre of literature when we’re not working. We simply want to be entertained — Calgon, take us away! In this respect, the impetus and outcome are little different than the urge to watch sports, and business journalists aren’t criticizing anyone’s enjoyment of that relatively empty pursuit.
As bestselling romance author Susan Elizabeth Phillips put it, "Romance books are the only books you can read where the woman always wins, and that's very powerful to women," a point hard to argue with after a long day slogging it out for 77 cents to every man's dollar in wages.
It might be that the male-borne criticism takes unconscious issue with another less obvious attribute in romance literature:
“Romances are, in fact, subversive literature: They encourage women to be dissatisfied with inequality, and to set higher expectations for themselves, and they show them ways to achieve those expectations, largely by taming men and, in a way, usurping their power. Romances are arguably the only art form of any kind that portrays women as equal partners with men.” (Source: Dave Pollard, How to Save the World)
We can’t have 51% of the population seeking out literature that undermines the male-dominated status quo, now, can we?
Let’s recap: Some guy with a 20-plus year career  in business journalism got paid to write an evergreen opinion piece to fill out a thin holiday schedule. He questioned women's satisfaction with their liberation, based on his ability to invade some unsuspecting woman's personal space to determine what she was reading.
To him I say this: Take a number and get in line behind all the other absurd inequities women have to put up with every damned day, buddy — then fuck off and stay out of our books.
Count yourself lucky we’re reading and not overthrowing your world and its comfortable illusions.

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