A few days ago, MSNBC ran a very scientific poll about whether or not people read romance novels. And by scientific, I mean, they had three options: (these are not taken verbatim, but are my interpretation.)
1. Won't read anything else
3. Are you crazy? I wouldn't be caught dead reading that trash
It seems the majority of those polled read romance. Not really a surprise, considering the most recent Romance Writers of America stats show that 26.4% of all books sold in the US are romance, and it generated a revenue of $1.37 billion. So someone's reading all those romance novels.
What troubled me about that poll, however, was MSNBC's use of the term "bodice-ripper" to describe the genre. Um... hello? How dated is that term? Did MSNBC bother to actually research their poll, or did they think romance novels are still referred to by that almost-offensive term?
It dates back to at least the 1970s - and generally referred to either the clinch covers (some of the cheesiest covers ever, raised to an art form), where the heroine was spilling out of her dress and the hero was also half-naked. Or, from the plot, in which it was quite common for the hero to use force in order to coerce the heroine into bed. One of the most famous historical romances (and one of my personal favorites) is Kathleen Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower - and in it, the hero actually rapes the heroine. But it all ends well. Still, that is no longer considered an acceptable plot device, as rape is really about violence and domination - not romance at all. But, since the heroes were beastly and generally tore clothes off the heroines, the term "Bodice-ripper" was born.
And it died out quite some time ago - but MSNBC seems to have (sadly) not bothered with their research, or else they would have known it.
I also read on another blog, that there are actual covers sold, to slip over your romance novel so no one will be able to tell that you are (insert gasp here) reading a romance novel.
For the longest time, I was very sheepish about the fact that I wrote romance novels. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Oh, you write that trash? I never read it."
Okay, how do you know it's trash then? If you admit to how, then obviously you HAVE read it and I gotcha!
Or my favorite - "Oh, you write chick porn!"
Um. No. Porn has no real plot. It doesn't have to have a HEA (at least, not in the sense of one man and one woman riding off into the sunset. Happy ending has a totally different meaning in the world of porn).
My stories have conflict, and plot. They aren't just a bunch of sex scenes strung together and punctuated with awful dialogue. I try to create real, flawed people that readers want to root for and see end up together. Yes, my love scenes tend to run to the fairly steamy, but it isn't about the actual sexual act. It's about two people learning to trust, or learning to share, or letting each one into the more guarded recesses of their psyches. Sex is the symbol, not the reason for the story.
These stereotypes certainly don't help legitimizing romance as a something beyond what bored and lonely housewives read for escape (don't even get me started on that one. That's another grrr post right there). Romance is as legitimate a genre as suspense, or horror - and yet it's still looked down upon.
I love reading romance and I love writing it. Give me an HEA any day. The genre's come a looong way since the days of "bodice-rippers" - and I just wish that some people could grasp that concept and treat romance just like any other genre. I don't act all sheepish now when someone asks me what I do for a living. I tell them, I write romance.
And I'm pretty proud of that. =)