Oh please, DO condescend to me some more!

Wendy Duren posted a link to this article about Lauren Willig, and really it isn’t too bad considering it’s a mainstream publication covering something related to romance novels. But certain turns of phrase in this article have given me a pretty good case of Sand in the Vagina syndrome. You’ve been warned.

As Wendy herself noted, the use of “trashy romance” here seems completely unwarranted:

It seems a natural progression for a woman who got in trouble in the third grade for bringing a trashy romance novel to school.

OK, I know we have “Trashy” in our blog name too, but look, it’s kinda like a gay man calling his gay friends “queens” or “fags.” Or even a breeder like me saying something like “God, nothing more I hate than a fag on the rag” to my friend Garrett when he’s flipping out over his new hand-made rug getting its pile rubbed the wrong way. On the other hand, there’s a whole other dimension to those words when the person who uses them is a shitstomping homophobe who cheered when Matthew Shepard was killed.

OK, did I just compare homophobia to romance novel reading? Glurk. OK, just to make sure we’re clear, these two are NOT EVEN IN THE SAME UNIVERSE in terms of seriousness, but still, y’all get the sense of what I’m trying to say? Being “in the community” gives people a certain amount of leeway that generally isn’t afforded to people outside the community. And even then I know some people aren’t particularly thrilled with our decision to use the word “trashy.” (But interestingly enough, I have yet to see anyone saying anything about our use of the word “bitches.” Huh.)

OK, so that’s not even the worst of the cause for my current case of Sand-In-Vagina-itis. This quote, right here? UGH.

“There is a perception that romance novels aren’t intelligent books, that the only people who read them are stay-at-home moms. That just isn’t the case,” Chittenden said.

WHOA THERE. First of all: need we bring up the stereotype of the idle housewives wearing pink satin bathrobes and reading their romance novels featuring an “airbrushed Fabio” while munching on bon-bons? Because really, that is so 1986.

Second of all: Stay-at-home moms are somehow more stupid than a woman who decides to work outside the home? I mean, ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I have a good friend who’s a stay-at-home mom, and she’s creepily smart. Do NOT try to engage her in a discussion about Old Testament scholarship, because she will kick your ass. Even now, even though she got her BA a year ago and she doesn’t have to turn in any more papers, she will read big, clunky textbooks for fun—and make notes. And ANNOTATE. But wait, she doesn’t read romance novels. That must be what has preserved whatever IQ was left her when she decided to put off law school and look after her little sprogs instead.

And you know what bugs me a lot, too?  How the article just reeks of condescension. “Oh, how NICE that people with brains are reading and writing romances. Who would’ve thought people who read those heaving-bosom novels cared about accuracy?”

Gah. I’m off to cleanse my palate with some bon-bons now. Too bad pink satin bathrobes violate my company’s dress policy.


Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sarah says:

    I tell you, the entire idea of stereotyping the romance reader demographic is such a can of worms I don’t even want to think about it. Either we’re wearing lacy housecoats and eating bonbons, or we’re stupid housebound cows who don’t brush our hair.

    I wouldn’t be ashamed of reading romance sometimes if the covers were better – so maybe the stigma comes from the cover art (sex) and the blurb (unmitigatingly stupid text)?

    And what is chicklit other than thinly disguised romance novels with upgraded covers and less focus on sex, more focus on heroine?

  2. 2
    Candy says:

    Stereotyping romance novel readers is a pretty assheaded thing to do. There are so many of us, and there are so many different kinds of romance novels. And really, can we accurately judge a person’s personality based on what they read? For instance, can we honestly say that a person who reads predominantly non-fiction is not imaginative? Or that somebody who enjoys thrillers and hardboiled detective novels is either an aspiring cop, or an aspiring criminal? We read what we like, and sometimes it offers a glimpse into our innermost psyche, but I really wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

    And interesting observation about the covers/blurbs. It’s true that books that aren’t lurid at all often sport the most awful covers and ridiculously purple blurbs. Like I said in our Covers Gone Wild segment on The Lion’s Daughter, I almost didn’t pick it up because the cover gave me an entirely wrong impression about what lay within.

    My question is: HOW did those covers come around, then become so ubiquitous that they remained the industry standard for decades? Did the publishers test-market those puppies first, or did they unleash all those bosoms and biceps because they figured that women who were prurient enough to buy books called Sweet Savage Love would really, really dig shaved gym monkey chests?

  3. 3
    Larissa says:

    I’m SO with you on, especially on the leeway.  Kinda the same thing as “I can call my husband an ass, but you’d better not even think it,” kind of thing. *g*

  4. 4
    cw says:

    I heard that clinch covers came about to catch the attention of the mostly male buyers (for chains, etc). Boobage and other male biceps usually catch the male gaze first. :P

  5. 5
    Candy says:

    Huh. Very interesting, CW—the whole buyer for a bookstore aspect didn’t even occur to me. Dude, it’ll be SO FUNNY if we could blame bad romance novel covers on men. I mean, apart from the “most of the photographers and artists are male” thing.

  6. 6
    Lydia Joyce says:

    I have nightmares about getting dragged into an article like that.  People who try to condescend to me usually aren’t that bright, so a little intellectual humiliation goes a long way (yes, I am mean.  Thank you.), but in an article…  That’s so out of your control!!!!

    I read that article and wanted to die for the author.  It’s so awful.


  7. 7
    Meljean says:

    Agh! Motherhumper! Stupid network I’m on gives me an error half the time, and I forgot to copy my entry before submitting it. So if this is a somewhat double-post, sorry.

    Anyway, I felt bat for the author in a way, because it sounded like she does love romance novels, but at the same time the article completely turned me off the book—as if the book had somehow become complicit in that condescending smarmyness. I know if I’d read it, I’d be constantly thinking: and *this* is what is supposed to be historically accurate, and the next step up from the trash I’m writing?

    Although, now that I’ve read the review at AAR (it got a B, so it was a good review) I don’t know that I’d have read it anyway—the plot sounds too close to POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt, which I hated with a passion.


  8. 8
    Rene says:

    Geez, that was a pretty obnoxious article.  Well, I’m a SAHM and I graduated with honors in history from a real, honest-to-goodness university, so I think I’m pretty smart.  Although, I’m 37 and I have three kids ages 9 and under, that ain’t so smart.  But that is a whole other story.  I started reading romance novels back in 80’s when I was in jr. high and I can tell you, I got my interest in history directly from reading those “bodice rippers.” 

    So romance novels are for dunderheaded, Oprah watching housewives while top notch literature like John Grisham :roll: is for the smart people? Damn, the more I think about it, the pissier I get.  I better stop now or I’ll rant so much I will forget to wash the dishes and fold the laundry, being as how I’m a mentally-deficient SAHM and can only handle one simple thought at a time.

  9. 9
    cw says:

    >>Dude, it’ll be SO FUNNY if we could blame bad romance novel covers on men.<


    *@*!# (forgot to answer the spamchecker…*sigh*)

    LOL! I’d love to get a male reporter to interview me and drop the bomb about “the patriarchal gaze and its rapacious interest in the sexuality of the female” and whatnot. Hehehe.

    That article looks like email/feedback-bait. Two other things hit me: one, there’s no mention of Julia Quinn, bestselling historical romance author who may care a little less about historical accuracy and more about witty, entertaining fiction and, oh! who happens to be a Harvard alum.

    Second, isn’t the Harvard A&S faculty in some trouble right now for flinging burning monkey poo on the university president and not, say, doing their F-ing job? (


    Sweet, sweet schadenfreude.

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