Romance is the Cinderella of literature. Some would not even put it into the category of literature. The books sell a lot, but many people consider them trashy if not worse. Despite studies having been shown that the average romance readers are content with their real life, that the book is just a momentary escape, you know like a movie, the accusations constantly arise that it's bad for women.
Recently I came across one such article. The accusation went that reading romances was unhealthy for women, even addictive (comparing it to porn). Supposedly, those who read the books are at risk of leaving husbands, have unrealistic expectations for life, and worse yet, spend too many hours reading.
It's interesting how I never read the same concerns for men reading a Tom Clancy book. Has anyone worried that the Game of Thrones might make someone want to rush off to find that life for real? Romances are often set in fantasy or historical settings also, but something about them seems different to those who worry about romance readers. What could it be?
The feared instability of women is why it took so long for them to get the vote in this country-- not until 1912, the year my mother was born, could women vote in Oregon. This concern over women being easily swayed into instability didn't start recently if you look at Genesis where it was the woman who caused the grief. It was her who had to be controlled or... The or is where the concerns grow.
I posted a few comments in the last such thread. One was that while romance novels can have sex in them (they don't all), they are more about the heroine/hero's journey. I am not going to say all of them. In any genre, you can find books with a great deal to them and those that offer a shallow adventure.
Many romance novels follow Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. They are also about Pinkola Estés' running with wolves. Their characters do choose their own path... and I have to say that may be the fear these articles are expressing about the risk in romances. Not that a woman will leave her husband, but that she will not follow society's rules as usually written by old men to maintain power.
Romance novels can serve to be a sharing experience for women. An example from my life is one year I was staying in a hotel in Massachusetts (where my husband had been sent for a project) and was in our room often when the attendant came to clean. This was a period when I was buying a lot of used romances to get a feel for the genre. She saw them, and we talked about the books. I asked if she'd like some. She was pleased. So when she'd come, I'd give her the ones I'd finished. She told me she passed them onto her daughter. It was a female bonding experience on several levels.
While I know some men read romances (they are the ones who understand the stories are about heroes and adventure as much as heroines), the majority of readers are women. Maybe the real threat in romance novels is that those female heroines sometimes do what they want and don't follow the rules set out by a more rigid society. Can't have women doing that, now can we? Who knows to where it would lead.
An example is the snippet from my historical romance, Arizona Sunset:
For Abigail, just to change her garb is a major shift, because even that was dictated in her society in Tucson, Arizona 1883. I suspect that might be the concern being expressed by those who tear into women who read romances-- how dare women take their lives into their own hands and not stick to serious endeavors like-- reading the books written by the ones writing those warning articles.
In her bedroom, Abigail wrestled with buttons and fabric, that adhered to her sweaty skin, as she pushed her dress up and over her head. She tugged loose petticoat ties and stepped from all three. When she was down to her chemise and drawers, she stood in front of her floor mirror and stared at her reflection.
Serafina's knock with water and towels interrupted her frustrated evaluation. Told that her father and Martin had also come home early and were already in the parlor, Abigail managed thanks and a faint smile before Serafina closed the door, leaving her alone. On an impulse, Abigail wriggled from her undergarments and turned again to the mirror. She felt a surge of guilt as she stared at her naked body-- the sins of the flesh.
She remembered the pastor’s preaching on Sunday, had even then felt it to be directed at her. Perhaps the narrow minded man was right about the dangers of hidden desires, how it led to rebellion. One step out of line and you were over the edge. Well, that was all right. She felt in rebellion. Against him, against her father, against all she had been taught.
What was wrong with being aware of her body, of her own skin and curves, the soft womanly places that were hidden from all, usually even herself. She watched in the mirror as her hands stroked over the fullness of her breasts, down the line of her hip, to her flat belly. She felt scandalized but unwilling to stop. What was she hoping to find? She had no idea. But something. Definitely something.
Feeling mutinous, she walked naked to her wardrobe and looked at her dresses, selecting the lightest cotton on the rack. She shook it and fresh underwear out, just to be certain no scorpions or spiders had taken up residence, then dressed, this time with a light chemise and only one petticoat.