Romance novels aren’t bad—they’re just about women


Dear cishet men: it’s not cool to hate on things just because women like them.

It’s no secret there are loads of hobbies, subjects, and modes of entertainment identified—and dismissed—as ‘women’s things.’ Astrology, Starbucks, and rom-coms all come to mind. 

While different demographics are naturally drawn to different interests, it’s not okay to dismiss those interests just because they’re enjoyed by women.

Take romance novels, for example. Generally, romance is considered a women’s genre and, consequently, a genre not worth reading. It’s seen as trashy, shallow, and unsubstantial—as a ‘guilty pleasure.’

Yes, there are a lot of bad romance novels. But there’s also a lot of bad science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction. We don’t write off genres like science fiction, however, because they have a larger male readership. 

Here’s the kicker: the only reason we generalize romance novels as ‘bad’ is because they’re largely written by women, about women, and read by women. 

From the get-go, we’re taught to belittle women’s experiences and see them as unimportant. We view romance novels as unsubstantial because they’re about women living their lives; they’re about women having goals and desires and pursuing those goals and desires. Because they belong to women, we think those goals and desires lack value.

Another part of the problem is we don’t give female writers the time of day. If you look online, there are countless instances of women writing under androgenous or male pseudonyms to appeal to a male audience—or just to be taken seriously. 

Men see a woman’s name on the bottom of a book, and they don’t pick it up. Men see a book about a woman’s experiences, and they don’t pick it up. This is a problem.

One of the joys of reading is its ability to lend your gaze to other perspectives. It allows you to empathize with someone you might never have interacted with in real life and learn about their experiences. If we only read about people like us—if cishet men only read about other cishet men—we limit ourselves and miss out on opportunities for growth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of problems with the romance genre—like there are problems with any genre and with literature as a whole. Namely, romance novels are largely written by and about white, straight, cis women. They severely lack representation; it’s important to seek out varied stories and open doors to more diverse writers. 

Regardless, romance novels are valuable for their portrayal of women’s experiences. The best romance novels depict complex, three-dimensional female characters with lives, work, and dreams distinct from those of the male leads. They show female readers they don’t need a relationship to be happy, but it’s not anti-feminist to want one. 

It’s okay to like ‘girly’ things, just as it’s okay to not like them.

There’s nothing wrong with disliking romance novels—if they’re not your cup of tea, they’re not your cup of tea. What’s not okay is disliking them simply because women like them and dismissing their contents because they reflect women’s experiences. 

We need to rethink the content we label ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and to diversify the perspectives and experiences we consume. We need to teach our kids it’s okay to like what they like—even astrology and indulgent Starbucks drinks—regardless of their gender. 

Julia is a fourth-year English student and The Journal’s Managing Editor.

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