Novel-tea: reading romance is important

Credit: Soomin Kong/ Credit: Soomin Kong/
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The origin of the modern romance novel began in the 18th and 19th centuries with writers like Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen who introduced Western literature to novels focused on the lives and struggles of female protagonists. While the modern genre includes people of all genders and sexualities, “romance novels separate themselves from other genres by being primarily written by women, for women, and about women.” So why is this genre the subject of so much disapproval?

Obviously the answer has to do with misogyny, but let’s take this a bit deeper. Romance novels have skyrocketed in popularity on social media with authors like Emily Henry, Ali Hazelwood, Helen Hoang, Colleen Hoover, Tessa Bailey, and so many more. People, predominantly women, read these books with insatiable curiosity, often finishing them over the course of a singular evening and their digestibility only aids their popularity. However, those who are fans of romance are often patronized, with critics describing romance as a subpar form of literature, usually calling out its unapologetic sexuality and particularly its sexuality aimed toward female desire.

Why is it wrong for women to engage with their sexuality and why are contemporary novels featuring female sexuality discredited as not “real reading”? An article from Vulture describes,, “literary fiction has plenty of sex, but it’s rarely about the characters’ pleasure. Literary sex tends to be sad or gross, often enough presaging a character’s tragedy, as if she’s a promiscuous teen in a horror movie. In romance, people get to have sex, and it’s good.” Because the romance genre paints sex positively and is deemed as “smut,” people seem to believe that it does not deserve a place among literature. However, writing about sex is not a bad thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is historically one of the most recorded and debated aspects of humanity.

In fact, sexuality is a part of life that tends to affect everyone’s development in some way, shape, or form. Books should not have to be disturbing or deeply impactful in order to include sexuality — particularly female sexuality — they should be able to include sex as just a part of who their characters are. Learning about how characters interact with one another — physically or socially — and develop relationships is important to building compassion. Watching characters be stupid, make relationship mistakes, or struggle with intimacy, are real issues and stories that people can and should learn from.

Further, what is unique to the romance genre is that it is fully and thoroughly fun. It is fun to read about people finding happiness, developing as people, and just being in love. While romances can be sometimes unrealistic or overly sunshine-rainbow-y, part of that just reflects what love can be: a silly little idealistic mess two people find themselves in together. Reading more about that is not silly, but helps us all determine what we deserve and the foundations of strong relationships. Romance is not a genre full of flat characters who find themselves in love, but rather features comprehensive narratives about the human condition and what we owe to one another.