The Horror of the Harlequin

No one batted an eye when I, a female, read the Borne series of espionage novels by Robert Ludlum long before the movies came out. Nor when I was enthralled by the Spenser detective series by Robert B.  Parker after being introduced to the character thanks to the 80’s TV series. Oh, but let me read anything from the Troubleshooters series, military novels by Suzanne Brockman and eyes roll hard because Brockman’s books are considered romance.

While I personally find most of what is published under romance novels as a genre to be poorly penned and predictable as all get out, my wiring simply cannot find pleasure in reading them. But I don’t knock their existence for clearly many people, like my best friend, simply adore them. Please note: I am not solely speaking of romance novels with sex scenes, explicit or otherwise, but the quick read novels made infamous by Harlequin which became so popular in the 80s and remain steadfastly so today. This includes many of which can be found under the somewhat less threatening big sister header of Chick Lit.

Romance novels are often dismissed as guilty pleasures, something a person should be be above reading once out of their teens by women, and to be outright ashamed of being seen as read by men. Granted, the covers of barrel chested men with gloriously voluptuous women do not help, but still it is not just females reading romance novels. Let’s be honest: just as “boys have adventures with action figures” while “girls play with dolls“, men read plenty of books with romance in them — they just aren’t called romance novels.

The espionage and detective series mentioned above have romance scenes, separate or including depictions of sex, to demonstrate the level of importance of the romantic interests to each other. It’s often needed to push the story, no matter how weakly. I mean was there really any need for the Marie character in the Ludlum books, or movies, other than to give the lead character the damsel to save? So guys aren’t exactly foreign to the concept of reading up on some lovely-dovey time in novels and tacitly accept it.  Whodathunkit? Uh, most e-book users and FanFic writers.

With e-books and Fan Fiction or FanFic for short, males -especially CIS males- can delve into the world of romance historical, modern, fact, fiction, and yes the homoerotic, BDSM and so many other subsets within subsets as most females have enjoyed in, sometimes covered, print for decades. One of the many reasons E-books have become so popular  is that people can read whatever they want in relative private, without the grandiose covers mentioned above shouting to world what steamy words lay on the pixelated screen.

We live in a (relatively) free society in which we can like anything we want. So if men are reading romance too, why all the hating? as the kids would say. The problem is we live in a society that claims to embrace equality between men and women and at the same time devalues femininity.

It seems that we’ve been taught to have a disdain for all girly things. It’s is just part and parcel of living in a patriarchal society.  While traditional femininity can be just as toxic as traditional masculinity, in the push for equality, somehow being actually feminine has been pushed away into being considered less than. That feminine pursuits are frivolous, while masculine pursuits are valid, including what we read. When we try to devalue femininity as a means of oppression that is a problem.

There’s no more wrong with a guy reading a historical romance for fun than a gal reading a political thriller for the same reason – if it brings the reader pleasure – to each/his or her own.

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Writing Our Lives #52essays2017 challenge – Week 13

52essays2017

A year-long weekly personal essay/memoir/creative nonfiction writing challenge. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out Vanessa Martir’s website and learn about it.

 

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