Browsing Tag

genre snobbery


Because apparently I need to say this again

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.

The Internet

Oh look, more snobbery about people reading the wrong things

While the SF/F genre’s been busy with yet another round of You Wimmens Are All Crazy, There’s No Sexism in Science Fiction, looks like Slate decided to put up an editorial rant about how adults who read YA should be ashamed of themselves. I’ve seen a unilateral reaction of “fuck you” directed at Slate, justifiably so.

I’m not going to link to the article because I’m not going to give it the click traffic; if you really want to read it, io9 does link to it in their excellent rebuttal.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–any form of “you’re reading the wrong things” snobbery is bullshit and it needs to stop. And in this particular case, people who roll their eyes and assume that YA novels are dumbed-down, simplistic crap just because they’re marketed to teenagers clearly has no actual working familiarity with the best that YA has to offer. It’s also dismissing the mastery that an author can bring to a story, in general. And while I’m not a regular reader of YA, I’m here to tell you: it’s rare that I’m compelled to plow through an entire trilogy as fast as I can cram the words into my head. But the Hunger Games books did that.

Also, two simple words: The Hobbit.

Sure, it’s not marketed as YA, but Tolkien absolutely intended children to be the primary audience for that story. And sure, it’s not nearly as complex and dark as The Lord of the Rings. But Tolkien lavished his love for the language all over that book, and turning up your nose at it just because “oh well, it’s intended for children, and I am a Mature Adult” means you miss out on a masterpiece.

Others have pointed out, too, that YA gets a lot of shit because of more than a little sexism, too. A lot of YA authors are female. A lot of YA readers are female. It’s not a coincidence that “YA is simplistic claptrap for children” goes hand in hand with “women write YA because they can’t write real science fiction”.

At the end of the day, though, it still all boils down to “Hey you, you over there, you are reading the WRONG THINGS, and now I’m going to appoint myself the arbiter of your reading choices”.

I’m tired beyond belief of this. Literature readers sneer at genre readers. Male authors sneer at female authors. Male readers sneer at female readers. SF/F sneers at romance–hell, everybody sneers at romance, and boy howdy am I sick of that in particular. Now we’ve got sneering at people for reading books because of a mistaken idea that “marketed for a young audience” equals “claptrap”.

The other two words I’ve got for that: “fuck you”.


And another thing

I have a post on the Here Be Magic blog coming up soon, and I was going to save this for that, but fuck it, I want to post this now.

So yeah, as y’all can tell if you regularly read me, I’ve been keeping up with the recent SFWA explosions. However, on one of the posts I was monitoring, a generally reasonable discussion about the controversies at hand, somebody surfaced this morning to not only whinge about the dangers of OHNOEZ CENSORSHIP if people (read: women) complain about art involving absurd chainmail bikinis, but also to take a potshot at the romance genre. Which he described using the words ’emotional porn’.

I promptly unsubscribed from the thread on the general principle of oh fuck you. But I’ve been seeing red about this all day as a result.

Because you guys, I am sick and goddamn tired of genre readers snarking on each other’s tastes. Especially when the snark flows in the SF/F->romance direction, because c’mon, people, we know how it feels to have our reading tastes belittled. To be bullied and mocked because we like reading stuff with spaceships and robots and magic swords and unicorns and elves. To have our reading material derided as “not REAL literature”, to be dismissed as socially inept losers. And if we happen to be women, to have the added slam of being “fake geek girls” thrown at us, and to have our worthiness to be reading and enjoying these books, comics, movies, TV shows, etc., constantly assaulted and challenged.

Yet a lot of us keep turning around and leveling the exact same bullshit over at the romance readers.

A lot of it is sexist, for the reasons romance readers have been getting hammered with for years: patriarchal dismissal of stories primarily written by and for women, and therefore unworthy of standing on the same level as anything written by and for men. Though a lot of that isn’t even exclusively coming from men–I’ve seen this shit coming from women, too.

But a lot of it is also just general bullshit, on the grounds that certainly in the vast majority of SF/F I’ve ever read, y’know what’s front and center with the spaceships, robots, magic swords, unicorns, and elves? Yeah, that’s right, epic love stories. To name three out of Tolkien alone: Arwen and Aragorn, Lúthien and Beren, and Éowyn and Faramir. Here are a few more: Tarzan and Jane, Superman and Lois Lane, Han Solo and Princess Leia, Leetah and Cutter, Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood, and Buffy and Angel.

The same applies if you go back and dig into mythologies and fairy tales from any corner of the world you care to name. Hell, you can’t swing a stick in Greek mythology without hitting a story involving a relationship of some kind–often highly screwed up, because the Greek gods were after all a pantheon of raging asshats for the most part. Ditto for the classic fairy tales, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast. At the core of almost all of them you’ll find a love story of some kind.

The point is, love stories are a fundamental part of just about every story ever told, because love is a fundamental part of human existence.

So why the hell, SF/F readers, do you keep snarking on romance?

Because if you’re doing it because we think that every romance novel is a bodice ripper full of prose so purple that it’s practically ultraviolet, I have three words for you: Eye of Argon.

If you’re doing it because we’re dismissing stories that focus on love, again I say: have you actually read your genre?

If you’re doing it because you’re dismissing novels with a lot of sex in them, because yes, a lot of romance novels do have sex in them, yet again I say: have you actually read your genre? Why is it okay to have fantasy novels wherein practically ever single female character gets raped at some point, but it’s not okay to have novels where the heroine and hero tear each other’s clothes off because they both want to?

If you’re doing it because your only conception of a romance novel is Twilight or 50 Shades, I challenge you to remember that those are the outliers in the genre, and no, actually, they’re not representational of the genre as a whole. No more than Harry Potter is representational of all children’s books in the world, or Tolkien is representative of all fantasy, or Star Wars is representational of all science fiction. I challenge you to find the authors that the regular readers of the genre are reading, so you can see what the current state of the genre is like. I will be happy to provide recommendations, or to point you right over to Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Like it says on the tin over there, “all of the romance, none of the bullshit”. And as you might guess, I do like my reading bullshit-free.

There. Now maybe I can let my blood pressure go back down for the weekend, hmm?