“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This American proverb has spawned the weekend rash of garage sales.
In 2008, a website called “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” created such a controversy regarding the treasure and tropes of romance novels it caused servers to crash and the term “romancelandia” was coined. It’s a mythical place where happy-endings abound.
Romance Novels have a complicated history that spans centuries. During my speech class in 2008, I presented an overview of the romance industry from the publishers side. This was prior to the Kindle but the digital publishing industry was already established, though tiny.
The financial data astounded the class. But that’s just business. One question I was asked after my speech was, “Why can I fly through a 300 page novel in a few hours, but barely read 3 pages of my textbooks before falling asleep?” My answer was, “They are written in present tense, active voice, and full of action verbs.” Hint to scholastic writers and teachers…
Romances are used for literacy programs because they are easy reading and engaging stories. Even illiterate construction workers can soon breeze through them and are proud to have read them. Romances are also used for couples therapies and marriage counseling and are stocked at women’s shelters. These are the same places and programs that receive much of the industry dollars as well. Many romance novelists were victims where the first rays of hope, for personal power, came from the pages of trashy romance fiction and the required happy ending.
In the 1980’s, when I was a lonely stay-at-home mom, 300 miles from family, category romances introduced me to couples around the world pursuing happiness, and in the end, together. My epiphany was when I realized none of the characters were “normal” but uniquely ordinary people, in remarkably toned bodies, struggling to create a life worth living. They got distracted from their practical goals by sexual attraction. They endured conflicts to dump past baggage and heal emotional issues. They realized they deserved love and grew up. They could now give and receive love. The end.
Romances are often criticized for being fiction. 😀 Truly, the most criticism is that they aren’t real and give women unrealistic expectations of a relationship.
In the 1970’s there was lots of brutality inflicted on the heroines. During the 1980’s the victimization of women started to dissolve and some heroines actually had jobs out of the kitchen. Empowered woman began to emerge in the 1990’s and as a mother of four school age daughters, I was pleased.
Many old-skool romance novelists fought the battle of the “trashy” label in the trenches. These women maintained their dignity in relative silence, while laughing all the way to the bank. However, the new generation of romance readers and writers use the “trashy” mislabel as a battle cry and have whole libraries of high quality novels to promote.
The treasure today is knowing women around the globe who have little access to health care or education, who exist within cultures that promote victimizing and brutalizing women, are reading romances that empower women. These uneducated and victimized women understand the stories are fiction yet are getting that first ray of hope for happiness, equality, and personal power.
As the Chinese proverb says, “women hold up half the sky”.