Dear Bitches, Smart Authors Podcast

51. An Interview with Drs. Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois about the Gendered Community of Romance

I sat down with Dr. Joanna Gregson and Dr. Jen Lois, two professors of sociology who are doing a years-long study of the sociology of the romance writing community. I attended their session at RWA and tweeted the pants off it (you can read the Storify collection of tweets if you'd like to learn more about their research and data). Later I begged for a few minutes so I could interview them further.

We talk about about their research, the things they've learned about the romance community and the patterns of behavior they identified as they gathered data. We also discuss whether romance is feminist, which led to discussion of valued work and devalued work, plus maternity leave policies in the US vs. other nations. It's a fascinating discussion, and I hope you enjoy it.

Some of the terms we mention come form their presentation and I wanted to make sure I defined them so you knew what we meant:

Altercasting: You can read the Wiki definition, but for more details, I asked Prof. Jen Lois for some help with this definition. She wrote: “Altercasting refers to an interactional dynamic where you try to cast the other (“alter”) into a specific role or identity.  It can be intentional or ignorant, explicit or implicit, but it basically amounts to “offering” a role to someone else during an interaction.  We found that those outside the romance community tried to confer a shame-deficient identity on writers because of the sexual content of their work–in other words, outsiders altercast writers as sexually 'shameless.'”

Prof. Gregson adds, “An example often used in Soc 101 textbooks is when parents say to children 'I know you can be a big girl when we go to the doctor (or wherever)'; they don't actually know that, they're just hoping to convince the kid that they can be that person because that's who they (the parent) want them to be.”

Contagion of stigma is another term I was unfamiliar with, though now that I know what it is I have seen it live and in person in so many forms. Prof. Joanna Gregson explains it as “the idea that we not only stigmatize deviants, we also stigmatize those who interact with or are otherwise associated with them. It's like being guilty by association.”

Here are some of the books we discuss in this podcast:


Book Crazy for You - Jennifer Crusie Book Kate Brady - One Scream Away Book Kristan Higgins - The Best Man

Book Suzanne Brockmann<br />
 - The Unsung Hero Book Sarah MacLean<br />
 - A Rogue by Any Other Name

And here are their published books:

Book Home Is Where the School Is: The Logic of Homeschooling and the Emotional Labor of Mothering Book Heroic Efforts: The Emotional Culture of Search and Rescue Volunteers Book The Culture of Teenage Mothers


If you have questions for Drs. Lois and Gregson, here is all the contact info you need (which they provided): You can reach them at or via email:; Plus, they've just started a joint Twitter feed @romancesoc.

Our music is provided by Sassy Outwater, who is awesome. This track is called “Percolator” and it's by The Hanuman Collective from their album Pedal Horse. You can find them at iTunes as well.

Book Beauty and the Billionaire


Our podcast is proudly sponsored by Penguin, and they'd like to tell you about this new book from Intermix: 

If you’re aching for your romance escape fix, search no more!

Hunter Buchanan is a scarred loner and a billionaire real-estate developer who lives a reclusive life.  He’s fascinated by feisty ghost writer Gretchen, and lures her to his estate.  But will this Beast find true love with his Beauty or only heartbreak?

Download Jessica Clare’s BEAUTY AND THE BILLIONAIRE right now for the achingly sexy story of loner billionaire Hunter, and Gretchen, the feisty ghostwriter who’s captivated him. 






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Thanks for listening – hope you enjoy!

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  1. 1
    Nancy McCarty says:

    This is an amazing discussion about all things a romance writer (and reader) thinks, feels, goes through. It’s great to hear an intelligent discourse from intelligent women about why we love what we love. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to justify why I want to write romance novels. Everyone around me s beginning to see what a enormous market this is. But as a reader, it’s been more difficult. I have to admit to loving the e-reader format because no one has to know what I’m reading. It seems that everyone thinks I’m wasting my English degree on reading trash. I see it as I should LOVE what I write, and I absolutely do.

  2. 2
    MissB2U says:

    On the subject of one’s “value”… When we did our wills and estate planning one of the questions our person asked was what would it take to fill my “job” in the event of my death or disability.  We discovered that the amount needed to replace the job of full time nanny, housekeeper, cook, etc.  was mind blowing.  And that doesn’t even address the emotional part of what we do as wives, mothers, partners, etc.  My family and community have always commended me for “giving up” my career to be a full time mom.  I have two brother-in-laws who are both stay home guys and I have never heard anyone do the same for them.  Thank you Sarah, this was SO interesting!  Can’t wait to hear more from the Docs when they look at romance readers.

  3. 3
    Sam says:

    This was an amazing discussion to listen to! I’m a librarian, so I really do hope the good doctors do look at romance and librarianship in some way in the future!

  4. 4
    Karenmc says:

    I’m in the middle of listening to the podcast, but I can’t wait until it’s finished to say THANK YOU!! I’ve gone out of my way to enthusiastically talk about romance with friends and co-workers, and to hear this discussion is SO VALIDATING. Can’t wait for the Docs to publish something.

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    You are all SO WELCOME. I’m glad you found the conversation as fascinating as I did! I’ll ask the professors to do another podcast when they publish their paper so we can learn more. I’m so happy you found this as interesting as I did!

  6. 6
    cleo says:

    I’m in the middle of listening and I’m really enjoying it.  I’m struck by the discussion of stigma, and how romance authors, who feel stigmatized by the outer world, come together to support each other.  And the flip side is that there’s not much tolerance of criticism.  (I’m paraphrasing – hope I got the gist of the comment).  This made me think about all of the kerfuffles in the m/m community – I love reading m/m but I mostly stay away from the on-line community and out of the kerfuffles, but they kind of fascinate me.  And I wonder if some of the intensity of the clashes has to do with the participants feeling like an extremely stigmatized group and having little tolerance for any time of criticism.

  7. 7
    Jen Lois says:

    That’s an interesting observation, Cleo!  We have not come across the kerfuffles in the m/m community, but my mind immediately goes to this sociological image that I have in my head when I think of status stratification in communities.  I picture a series of concentric circles with the most powerful/dominant (read: mainstream) groups in the middle, where they have access to different forms of power and resources.  Then I populate the rest of the circles with people who diverge from the mainstream/dominant categories in the culture.  So if you’re a woman, you get bumped out one level from the center.  If you’re of color you get bumped out a level.  If you’re poor, gay, etc, you get bumped out so that these categories are the ways people get marginalized in society and lose access to resources. 

    So that’s larger society in general, and when you get into specialized subcultures, those categories often translate (sometimes not) and other status markers also become important (so if you’re a man in romance, you might get bumped out a level).  What happens at the margins, however, is always so interesting.  One would think that the shared oppression would create solidarity among the group, and often it does.  However, another thing that happens, when you’re so close to line of group membership, is you can fight to justify your place with the other marginalized folks.  Or you can criticize them for casting (what you think is) a negative light on the group as a whole.  Much of this, I think, is generated by their precarious “membership” in the group and the constant threat of being cast out entirely.  You don’t have room for error—one false step takes you over the edge.

    That’s my analysis of data we don’t have!  I think it dovetails with your explanation about not tolerating any kind of criticism—don’t put us in a bad light and give the mainstream more ammunition for deriding us—but your explanation also suggests that because they’re on the margins, they can’t afford infighting.  Anyway, I’m babbling now.

    So fascinating!  Thanks for posting that!

  8. 8

    I’m listening to the podcast for the third time (hey, my brain is too tired/unreceptive for audiobooks right now so it’s podcast time!) and I’m finding it utterly fascinating. I’m loving everything about the discussion!

    I might come back later to comment on other stuff about the podcast, but I just wanted to ask if you ladies are familiar with Courtney Milan’s books? Because if you aren’t, you must rectify that stat! :)

    (Also, I think it’s time I reread Bosoms.)

  9. 9
    azteclady says:

    That was indeed fascinating, and I wish you guys could have had a few hours to keep going on all kinds of tangents.

    So much to think about, may have to come back after I listen to this again a few times—and probably take notes!

    Thank you, professors!

  10. 10
    Joanna Gregson says:

    It’s so gratifying to see our research is striking such a chord with people! We’ll look forward to sharing more findings as we continue to collect and analyze data. I love the additional topics that have come up in this thread (and in our email inboxes as a result of this podcast); you’re making my mind spin!

    I’m curious to know whether readers perceive/receive the stigma we talk about authors experiencing—and if so, what it looks like. What do people say when they know you read romance?

    Joanna Gregson (Professor of Sociology, Pacific Lutheran University)

  11. 11
    cleo says:

    @Joanna – people are often surprised when I tell them I read romance. I’m a college prof (art and design) and it doesn’t seem to fit my image. I spent years and years being kind of embarassed by my reading preferences and then shifted into being defensive. Now that l’m less apologetic I feel like people I tell are less judgemental. Or maybe I’m less sensative.

    @Jen – I like your concentric circles image. I think there’s several things at play in the mm community. Part of it is defining the genre / community and defending it from perceived threats. Frex, some mm readers and reviewers feel strongly that mm romances should only have gay male sex scenes and others don’t. Heidi Cullinan blogged about the most recent skirmish in that battle recently.

  12. 12
    azteclady says:

    There are many things raging in my mind about the different topics covered in the podcast.

    One of them, which relates to the question of stigma posed above by Professor Gregson, involves 50 Shades.

    Where I work I have occasion to see people bring their books and e readers and sit down for an hour or two having lunch or coffee, and reading away. I find it interesting that people with non-fiction or serious fiction titles in print tend to boldly set them on the counter, cover up, while people with romance paperbacks tend to hold them with the cover against their body. I am shameless in asking what people are reading, and often in the case of older books I’m already familiar enough with the cover/fond/color scheme to guess it’s a romance and thus put them at ease with their reading choice.

    So far none of my (current—we have high turnover) co workers has come out as a great reader, period, let alone a romance reader. However, several times while I’m reading during my break, some will make a point to come over, ask what I’m reading and, upon hearing “a romance novel” will make either some derogatory remark (“you need a boyfriend”, “are you really that bored?”, “isn’t there anything more productive you could do with your time?”, etc), or condescendingly say, “oh, that’s okay, I’ve read 50 Shades of Gray.”

    Because obviously, having read one badly written, bdsm-lite Twilight fanfiction makes them a great authority on my reading choices.

    (And I realize that I’m probably proving the point of being overly critical in response to criticism)

  13. 13
    cleo says:

    @Jen – fyi, if you want to investigate m/m kerfuffles, the one earlier this month was really interesting. A popular mm reviewer posted a rant against “het sex” in mm romances and a slew of mm authors posted angry rebuttals.  I think this fight is not about not looking bad to the mainstream, but how to define the boundaries of the genre and about who (if anyone) should police the borders.

    I tried to link to Heidi Cullinan’s response, but it won’t go through.  Aleksandr Voinov’s response is also good, and has a link to Heidi’s (which has a link to a screen shot of the inciting blog post, which was taken down).

  14. 14
    cleo says:

    @Jen, one more link – think this gives a better overview than Voinov’s –

    (OK, now I’m going to write that blasted study guide and stop goofing off on-line)

  15. 15
    Jen Lois says:

    Thanks, Cleo, fascinating links!  Some great points made on both!  (Good luck w/ that study guide….)

  16. 16

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  17. 17

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  18. 18
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  19. 19
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