While I was working the NIWA table at Worldcon, one of the people who came by was a very outspoken, charming fellow who took the time to chat and make jokes with several of us. I wanted to like him. Except for one thing: he was very blunt in his opinion of romance, sweepingly dismissing the entire genre as “swill”.
And as soon as he said that, I had to speak up in romance’s defense, as well as back off from talking to him much after that. Because it seemed pretty evident that he had an opinion, the kind of opinion that isn’t easily going to change in one chance meeting, and I didn’t want to drive him away from buying anything at the table if there was a chance he would.
But I did want to talk about this here. Because it’s yet another example of what I see out of SF/F readers on a regular basis: i.e., the broad-spectrum dismissal of romance as a genre that’s worth paying attention to. Usually this is hand-in-hand with misogyny, targeted at female SF/F authors who get their work dismissed as “thinly veiled romance novels”, thereby insulting female authors and the romance genre in one double-fisted blast of “oh for fuck’s sake, this again?”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m really tired of SF/F readers snarking on romance. And hell, I’m not even as devoted a romance reader as many; I’m on the periphery of the romance readership at best.
I see in the regular remarks to the effect of “X is still a better love story than Twilight“. And don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to run out and read Twilight, but I think it’s also unnecessarily condescending to go on and on and on about how anything is a better love story than Twilight. Particularly when most of the time, the people doing the snarking haven’t even read the series, so they have no real basis on which to deliver the snark.
I see it in the constant dismissal of the romance genre as nothing but “porn for women”, and how “bodice rippers” still gets thrown around to describe the genre, despite how the genre hasn’t really been rife with bodice rippers since the 80’s. As anyone who actually cares enough to explore the modern state of the genre could easily discover for themselves.
I see it in the constant ever-so-convenient failure to ever give male authors any level of shit for having love stories in their work, either. You don’t see men getting their books dismissed as “thinly veiled romance novels” or “porn for women”. Even when they also have sex scenes in them, especially given how rapetastic a lot of modern fantasy epics can wind up being. Because apparently a woman getting raped in a fantasy novel by a man is “realistic”, while a woman having a positive consensual sexual encounter in a fantasy novel written by a woman is “porn for women”.
Surely I can’t be the only person who sees the injustice in that attitude?
So I’ll say this again: SF/F readers, quit it with the genre snobbery. We’ve all grown up with a history of getting snarked on for our reading tastes, so we shouldn’t be sneering at what other people like to read. Particularly when we haven’t even bothered to look at the books in question ourselves.
Sure, romance has its share of bad books. Every genre has its share of bad books, and SF/F is not exempt from that. And not every genre is going to be appropriate for someone’s reading tastes. I’m not asking for people to unilaterally embrace romance as the awesomest thing that ever awesomed.
But I am asking, yea, challenging you: next time you catch yourself about to snark on a book in the romance genre, particularly one you haven’t even bothered to read, take a step back and ask yourself how you’d feel if somebody else was about to do that to a book you loved. Remember that the person you’re snarking to, or people who may be reading that tweet or post to your Facebook wall, might well have actually read and loved that book.
Likewise, I challenge you to consider: is a book that portrays romance and love stories and positive sexual encounters for women really all that bizarre a concept?
Here endeth today’s rant. Thank you.