Where are romance novels headed given the current state of women’s issues?

From The Chicago Tribune:

Romance is a genre about women, by women and pored over by women — 84 percent of readers are female, according to Romance Writers of America.

It’s a $1 billion industry, and 35 percent of romance book buyers have been reading them for 20 years or more, according to RWA.

So after a year when persisting and resisting were the norm — what does this world of fiction look like? Have romance novels evolved given the current social/political climate? The answer to that is yes, but not in a “big boom” kind of way, said Joanne Grant, editorial director of the Harlequin Series.

“I think this is something that will continue to shape romance over time, but I also feel strongly that this is a conversation we’ve been having over the course of years,” she said. “It’s not a new thing for us to pause and look at our male/female dynamics: how we portray sex, consent, how do we keep the fantasy alive while making sure that the heroine is relatable in the 21st century?”

. . . .

Author Beverly Jenkins, who has made her name in African-American historicals, said such work is ongoing. The Belleville, Mich., writer whose first book was published in 1994, said current writers of romance are “bringing a different mindset, a different focus to the story,” where consent is the thing. But she also mentions that, as things evolve, the main purpose of romance is consistent. “Romance offers that comfort read, but it also offers resistance. You have a lot of feminists who are writing romance, Alisha Rai, Alyssa Cole, Sarah MacLean, and they’re all putting that kind of thread through their books. Resistance has always been there. Women have always had to resist in order to get what they want out of life,” Jenkins said.

. . . .

From the 1972 book “The Flame and the Flower,” the romance genre was born on a mass market scale, and from its pages of forced seduction came the metaphor for the women’s movement, she said. “Most scholars of romance will tell you the arc of this book is kind of a metaphor for the women’s movement in general, meaning, if you look at the hero as society and the heroine as women, ultimately, equality is the goal between them,” MacLean said. What followed, said the author of “The Day of the Duchess,” were workplace romances of the 1980s, romance of the ’90s, where the good guy was born amid cultural satisfaction, and the world after 9/11 that saw the rise of paranormal romance. By the late 2000s, there was the economic crash, and we saw the rise of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and the billionaires, MacLean said.

“Literature likes to see women martyred, and they like to see people of color martyred, and queer people martyred and disabled people martyred, but romance doesn’t do that,” she said. “Romance has often been the only place in media where women can see themselves at the center of the story triumphing. … There’s a lot of power in happily ever after. In 2017, I think many of us came to a place where we realized that the best way for us to resist was for us to tell stories where we win, and the best way to show the other side that we will survive them is to show ourselves in happiness … because happiness is torture in its own way.”

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

8 thoughts on “Where are romance novels headed given the current state of women’s issues?”

  1. I’m shocked–shocked I say (along with Claude Rains)–that 16% of the readers of romance novels are men.

    I understand that a few men write such novels, under pen names or initialed first and middle names, but I’m surprised that one-sixth of the readers are male.

    I can’t think of a male-dominated genre where a one-sixth readership of women would surprise me as much.

    • They may have been counting gay romance. Many of my gay friends love trashy gay romance novels.

      I wonder if that ups the numbers at all.

      I also suspect a lot of men who read romance hide it.

  2. I don’t see why the current climate should change anything. Violence against women (in all its forms) has been included in romance novels for decades.

    This isn’t “new” except maybe to people who don’t read Romance.

    I figured the percentage of men reading Romance was around 10%. Good to see it’s higher. I’m betting it’s because of digital formats.

  3. Re: male readers of romance, the only surprising thing is that there’s not more male-targeted romance. As you learn when you read the Victorians, men used to love reading love stories. The “love pulps” had a fair amount of male readership too, especially Western romance pulps, and they had love/pen pal matchups going in the letter columns.

    My dad is not particularly girly, but he’s been known to read romance novels when he was out of other books. (My grandma on Mom’s side has this huge stash, and they have a lot of military-starring romances these days.)

    And of course, writers like Georgette Heyer have crossover appeal, and “Ilona Andrews” has a lot of appeal for sf/f fans and rpg gamers.

    • Romantic Comedies tend to be guy-friendly too.
      Julie Jenner’s PROTECTORS series of superhero romcoms are quite amusing, fun fluffy stuff. Ditto for John Moore’s fractured fairy tale series, even though those are billed as fantasies first. (HEROICS FOR BEGINNERS is very much a romance story. Ditto for THE UNHANDSOME PRINCE.)

      One advantage of Indie pub and online is there isn’t necessarily a publisher imprint and/or B&M genre shelving to steer readers away from a title.

      Properly tagged ebooks will show up in multiple genre listings, exposing them to more potential customers. Many are the subtleties of online retail.

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