Just for fun--okay, for procrastination, if you really want to know--last week I started googling to see what I could find about the effects of romance novels. Wow: there are a lot of dire predictions out there. I get the impression many people still believe we romance readers are melting our brains, jacking our expectations regarding relationships to unhealthy heights, and compensating for some dire lack in our own lives.
I don't feel particularly brain-melted myself, and I've very content with my life and relationships, so I'm just going to ignore that and move on to a more fun, and infinitely more sensible, question: what are romance novels good for?
A quick list of my own reasons for loving them:
1. They're an inexpensive mood-boosting treat for when I crave some fun, frivolous distraction. They have no calories, they aren't tested on animals, and when I buy them in ebook form I don't even have to dust them or recycle them.
2. Far from distorting my expectations about real life romances, they can, if I'm in the right mood, remind me of how much I appreciate real-life, down-to-earth, flawed human beings like myself. (Let's be honest here: any impossibly handsome man who rides up on a horse would just make me fall over laughing, and further down the road I'd probably end up strangling him in his sleep. Perfection would not actually be any fun to live with.)
3. Well-written romances can keep alive that small, hopeful spark of "there are good people out there, capable of love and commitment" even in the face of endless dreary statistics about divorce, dishonesty, infidelity, and ennui.
Maybe they even promote real-life romance. After all, it's been argued that appreciation of the athletic male form used to be considered an inducement for young women to marry. No, really: In the all-Greece Olympic Games there were restrictions for female spectators (even under penalty of death execution). Some authors state that all women were banned from watching the games whereas others insist that the ban was only for married women but unmarried women were allowed to be present. And in trying to find quotes on that, I just found one suggesting appreciation for female beauty was also used to lure men to marriage: The contests were restricted to unmarried girls, who competed either nude or wearing only skimpy dresses. Boys were admitted as spectators, a practice intended to encourage marriage and procreation.
So, there you go: maybe swooning over men-in-fiction (or women-in-fiction) could have the same effect. *grins*
4. Just having novels with women as main characters, and which treat women's desire/sexuality/romantic impulses as something worth thinking about, writing about, and discussing is a good thing, in my opinion. Or to put that in academia-speak, here, have a quotation from Dr. Virginia Lyn Neylon, Reading and Writing the Romance Novel: Popular romance novels provide images of women struggling in a patriarchal society and overcoming its obstacles and limitations to achieve happiness and fulfillment. They illustrate a female ideology where women and men form loving partnerships and work together in mutual support and understanding. They often rejoice in female sexuality and validate women’s wants and desires."
I especially like how the conversations that surround romance novels can end up being quite serious. What can start as a simple discussion of whether plot elements like rape, dubcon, or alcohol-as-disinhibitor are on your personal SquickList or Bullet Proof Kink List can spiral off into whole conversations about why women desire what they desire, whether desires should be catered to or regulated, and how culture reinforces certain desires, or possibly even creates them, while suppressing others. I love that.
So what about everyone else who reads them? What are romance novels good for?
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