8 January 2015

Gender and the Romance Community

Hey everyone,

Since starting this blog I have become more aware, shall we say, of the trends and pattern in romance books. Why I have no idea because honestly I'm not reading anymore than usual! Perhaps I'm just more aware/involved with the romance community as a whole? Your guess is as good as mine. Anyway I transgress as what I really want to talk to you about to day is the increasingly male present in our traditionally female dominated community.

For decades the Romance genre has been classified as the 'female' genre. When the genre first started to gain popularity in the 1980s and 1990s it was seen as the trashy and intellectually lacking book genre that was only for women. It was the books nobody admitted to reading. The books you hid from prying neighbours. If we're being honest with ourselves a lot of people are still dismissive of the romance community today.

I myself have been known to highlight the less romantic parts of the book I'm reading in favour of the sub-plot. For example when asked by my mum what book I was reading on holiday (A Gentleman's Madness) I described it as a book that showed the distreatment of gay men in the Victorian period. Conveniently missing out the love story between one of the patients at the mental asslyum and his ward attendant. I know my own brother refuses to read my blog because he doesn't want hear about 'heaving chests' and men in kilts (I may have left a scottish romance book with a bare-chested man in his room by accident when he was ten and apparently the incident scarred him for life).

Now a days with our supposely more liberal society I feel it is more accepted to read romance, despite what my actions in the above pararaph would suggest. I would argue that the growth of the internet and the rise of the ebook has led to a flourishing romance community with both vocal and silent participants. Now romance novels often make the New York Times Bestseller List. In more recent years I have read many blogs that praise the Feminist, Pro-Women nature of the romance genre. Emphasising that romance books are written by women, published by women and read by women. Some even going as far as claiming it is waving a flag for female independence in a tradiontally male realm.

Where however does that leave the 9% of romance readers who are male? I realise I am not the first, and hopefully will not be the last blogger to talk about this topic, yet I feel it is a topic that needs discussing. I personally see men reading and writing romance as a positive thing. Surely part of the reason we all love the genre is because of its inclusive nature? Yet still many male authors and even some women who write m/m romances feel the need to use intials when publishing books. The implication being that romance readers would be less likely to buy from a male author.

As pointed out by a post written for the Huffington Post in early 2014 the majority of Romance books are produced and marketed with a female audience in mind. One only needs to look at the majority of historical romance covers to see that they are not always the most male friendly and yet that doesn't mean the content can only be enjoyed by women. At the end of the day if a story has a good plot, great characters and clever world building it has the criteria to be a best-seller (clearly I simplified but just go with me on this). Are we, the romance community, then the ones preventing more men from enjoying romance? If we could break-down the gender sterotypes that surround the romance genre would it become more socially acceptable for men to read romance? Would it become a genre with less stigma attached to it in general?

Arguably the breakdown of gender codes has already occured more successfully in the film industry with romantic comedies such as Love Actually being hugely popular with both men and women despite being all about Love, actually (sorry I couldn't resist!). If men want to read, write, publish or blog about romance books I personally am all for it; to me it could mean we become a genre that truly promotes equality between the sexes. Also on a slightly less serious note surely this would mean more romance books for us to read and more people to talk to them about? That just screams win-win to me.

Happy reading everyone and see you next time!