This blog post is inspired by the one Maya Rodale wrote today for the Read-a-Romance website in which she advocates for romance because in a world and societies that make being a woman derogatory, it provides an example of strong women who fight against the status quo and love themselves for doing it. “Romance novels can give a girl ideas,” Rodale writes, “and the idea that she gets to make decisions for herself is one she ought to have.” You can read the full blog post here. I do recommend you follow the link in her post for the “one brilliant feminist” and to watch the video at the end.
I started reading romance novels when I was a young teenager, like many romance readers. My mother read them as well as my older sister, so it was normal in my household; later I found out the majority of my aunts (and I have a lot) read them too, as well as my grandmother. At first it was that secret pleasure of it – I was fourteen and reading about sex! Of course it was what I wanted; what fourteen-year-old isn’t curious about that sort of thing? And it was great! I was allowed to read about it but not really watch it in a movie or on TV. I felt so grown-up.
But others noticed. And teased me for it. Made me feel dirty and wrong for wanting to read it. Told me those books had no substance. That it was smut. Soft pornography. That I must be a sex addict and therefore an easy girl to get with.
So I stopped reading them. For little less than a decade, I read other stuff. Literature, fiction, histories, university assigned reading, etc. For that time, I felt superior to those who read romances. To my shame, I got after my sister for reading them, using the same reasons listed above.
But one day, I didn’t have any books in my TBR pile and was jonesing for something to read. I picked up one of the romance novels lying around the house and fell in love all over again.
It was still a source of shame, however. I didn’t hide it, but whenever someone asked me what I was reading, I would say the title in some cheesy way, making a joke out it. I told people I read them because they were an escape, that I didn’t have to think while reading them. And it was true, to an extent.
Then I began writing romance novels. And I kept it a secret. For five years, I quietly typed away and didn’t tell my family, barely told my friends, because I was afraid of the ridicule I would get. Even those I told, I waited and weighed the pros and cons of telling them. To those who questioned my choice, I would say, “I don’t feel I can write a serious piece of literature because I don’t think I have anything to say. One day maybe, but not right now.” Even in that answer, I was degrading the romance genre.
I finally revealed to my family what I was doing, but only after I was offered my first contract. What surprised me was the amount of support and congratulations I received; a little bit of teasing from those I expected it from the most, but mainly support.
I want to repeat what the purpose of Read-a-Romance month is: to create a place “where romance writers and readers could come together and celebrate this wonderful genre.”
And you know what? It is a wonderful genre.
It just took me a long time to admit it.
I write romance novels because when the news reports kidnappings, rapes, murders, political corruption and all sorts of negativity, it gives a beacon of light and hope that there is a chance for happiness. How is that worthy of ridicule?
I write romance novels because where the media constantly gives unhealthy images of what a beautiful woman looks like, the heroines I read are flawed yet loved despite that. Rodale writes that “… romance novels give a girl permission to just be herself and trust that the love will follow.” How is being yourself and loving yourself wrong? How is it unhealthy?
I write romance novels because in a media world where the woman changes herself to meet the expectations of her partner, she thinks she has found true love. And this is what our young teenage girls are reading and watching, but it’s not a healthy perspective on relationships. Rodale writes “I think romance novels give us girls an idea of what to look for in a good man… It’s not about the money or the orgasms, but the fundamental desire to feel loved and cherished and to know someone else will help shoulder the burdens.” How is this wrong? How is this shameful?
I write romance novels because I do have something to say. I say that women have the right to believe they deserve more than what they have experienced so far. I say that women should have high standards for the person they choose to spend their life with and in return respect that person by holding themselves to the same high standards. I say that trust, honestly, fidelity and affection make up the foundation of strong, healthy relationships and that women are not wrong to expect these things from her partner.
I say that romance novels are important to me as a person and as a reader. “Because romance novels spread powerful ideas about love, personal choice, how a man ought to treat a woman, how good people treat all people and what really matters… It’s love, plain and simple.” Thank you, Ms. Rodale.
Hi, my name is Ellie and I write romance novels.
And I am proud of it.