Women have historically been excluded from the literary canon, something that carries on through to publishing today. Women’s voices and stories – as authors and characters – has been systematically devalued in literature. This is the reality for all the genres but even more so for romance.
Romance is full of women’s voices and women’s stories and consequently, romance novels are often not taken very seriously, often marginalised as something irrelevant in book culture. Born of misogyny, snobbish bias, romance novels are frequently considered not good enough for college and school curriculums. They have also continually landed themselves a reputation of a formulaic love story, silly and lacking in depth. Branded as nothing but fantasy and unrealistic ‘chick flick’. And quite frankly, it is upsetting.
Much of this reputation comes from the bad romances out there (let’s not talk about the Mills and Boon love stories), affecting the entire genre’s reputation. This is in the same way horror films influence subsequent horror releases in the film industry. One bad egg often taints the full basket of eggs. And that’s not to say that this criticism is not well-placed at times – the covers of shirtless men can be incredibly anti-feminist. But there are many talented writers who are funny and unique, featuring multi-cultural, diverse romances that validate female sexuality.
Women’s romance has also often been branded as ‘chick flick’ due to the perpetuating stereotypes that women will inevitably fall for the hunky man as he falls for the pretty girl, living happily ever after. Something that is not an accurate representation of real life. They paint a reality where women should ‘look good’ to attract a man, that women are dependent on men and that attracting men, getting married and having children should be the end goal.
But this is not the case for all romances. Some, on the other hand, show the pleasures of female sexuality, depicting women as powerful and strong, embracing their kinks. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, society also disparaged female reading of romance novels due to the fantasy they provided. Many believed reading the genre was a vice that would eventually lead to immoral behaviour as young women would, apparently, copy the behaviour or patterns of the relationship they were reading. In reality, during this period, this was the closest some women will ever get to exploring their sexuality.
The term ‘chick flick’ also implies women competing against other women instead of showing sisterhood, displaying women as weak, emotional wrecks. The term excludes the reality of many women’s romance novels that explore the issues many women encounter such as race, sexuality, and class divides. It excludes the importance of women as protagonists, the importance of a genre allowing the opportunity for many girls and gals to experience love, heartbreak, and everything in between.
Women’s romance is a desperate attempt for women to escape the bleak realities of their own life, allowing readers to live vicariously through the protagonist’s adventures. It’s a genre that allows women to figure out who they are; figure out how they fit into society as they discover independence, honesty, bravery, vulnerability and strength. The genre is fun, smart, increasingly inclusive and a guaranteed good reading experience for both women AND men.
I will never understand why you would treat a book differently if its romance or action if they’re both well-written pieces of work. So, while the misogynistic bias may never disappear when it comes to women’s romance or toward women’s fiction in general, I will continue to read the love stories that make me feel happy and warm inside and I suggest you do so to, without guilt that you’re not reading a more canonical classic. Because, when it boils down to it, Jane Austen is a romantic through and through.
Here is a list of my favourite romance novels that depict both multi-cultural, diverse, LGBTQ+ love stories:
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Emma by Jane Austen
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri
Photo by Ellie Hughes on Unsplash.