MV: Why should feminists read romance novels?
SW: It’s a 50-plus-year-old industry comprised mostly of women writers operating their own businesses and producing a genre about women’s self-actualization, pursuit of autonomy, and acquisition of sexual agency for an audience made mostly of women, who buy over $1.4 billion dollars worth of books a year. No, no, nothing feminist or even subversive about that.
If more people thought of it in these terms, maybe romance would cease being viewed as the most sexist, anti-feminist literary genre out there. It’s not even close to being that; science fiction and fantasy, in my opinion, wins that one hands down – this is, after all, a genre where its acceptable for Harlan Ellison to grope a female author on stage and pass it off as a joke.
There’s also some interesting discussion of Mandy Van Deven’s use of ‘smut books’ to describe romance novels. I kind of agree with people who don’t really like the use of that term, but in my case it doesn’t have anything to do with the ‘derogatory’ connotations of the word – I use smut myself to describe my own erotic/pornographic writing. My problem with it is that it’s…not accurate. For one, does any novel with explicit sex count as pornographic now? If so, I have a long list of more ‘literary’ novels that I’ll now be referring to as smut.
And there’s a second problem with the use of the word – not all romance even fits into Mandy’s own definition. There’s more than one subgenre where the sex is either nonexplicit or nonexistent. Where do these books fit?
But all in all, a really awesome article, and I’m glad to be seeing coverage of romance in the feminist press, if only so that the next time the fact that I admit to reading Claudia Dain and Sherrilyn Kenyon, I can have links to send to feminist friends who roll their eyes and accuse me of being counterproductive to the cause.
Yeah. It happens.