Manishtana: The Streak is Over

We’d had a few romance-positive articles in the news the last few weeks, including a New York Times article quoting Jane from Dear Author, but it appears the streak is over now that this article by a condescending LA Times reporter has been picked up by the AP so the derision can be shared across the land.

How appropriate that last night we at my giant table of loudness asked as part of the seder, “Manishtana ha lailah hazeh mikol ha leilot?” How is this night different from any other night? On any other night, or in any other industry, we’d be celebrating a profitable company in the light of depressed and sinking retail sales across the US in all markets. On any other night, or in any other industry, we might take a serious look at how a 60+ year old company run by mostly women, comprised of women writers operating their own businesses produce a continually-profitable market item for an audience of mostly women, and examine the subtext and subversive power of that circumstance. On any other night, or in any other newspaper, we might read the subject about which we’re writing instead of resting a few hundred words on prejudice, assumption and mistaken attitude without having actually read the novels we’re dismissing.

But on this night, and in this newspaper, and in the world of this sad excuse for a reporter, we examine the profit in the midst of economic loss, and the growth of an industry in a landscape of layoffs, and instead of asking questions, we denigrate, deride, and dismiss because after all, say it with me now, it’s just romance novels.

It also would have been enough just to report the facts without slanting them with attitude, but gosh, manishtana, such an easy target.

That said: daiyeinu (it would have been enough). Had Katiebabs left only her comment, it would have been enough. If Shiloh Walker had left only her comment, it would have been enough. If Della Jacobs had been the only response: it would have been enough. But no: we’re all pissed off and responding with level, fair, and firmly critical comments. Well played.

And now that we have blogs and national media attention and smart women saying smart things about a genre that is smart and profitable and about goddam ready for serious primetime, I say: enough is enough. Keep up the good work, everyone who tries to defend the genre. Articles like these, I hope, will become the exception, because it’s difficult to argue with smart women, savvy arguments, millions of dollars of profit, and an informed, unintimidated readership. Candy and I are trying our best to argue back with any questions that seem loaded with derision, and while we talk about what drives us nuts about romance, without exception we adore it and respect it and want it to continue to succeed.

That, and your presence here and on every other blog devoted to romance as a wonderous, powerful, viable thing, is more than enough.


Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. Carolyn Jean says:


    And I’ve been thinking how it’s great you have this book coming out right now at the same time as all this coverage is happening so people can hear your smart bitch voices instead of just the ignorant voices in articles like these.

  2. Wendy says:

    The L.A. Times had already managed to piss me off earlier this week when I saw….once again….that their big L.A. Times Book Festival didn’t have one single romance author on the program panel.

    Not. One.

    In California for cripes sake.  We don’t have as many romance authors here as in Texas – but we have a ton, along with several kick-ass RWA chapters.  Then if you factor in that two of the biggest romance authors on the planet live up north on the west coast (JAK and Macomber) – there’s really no excuse.  They’re apparently OK with mystery/suspense – which is great because the greater L.A. area has a rich mystery writing history – but don’t want to soil their hands inviting any of those dirty smutty romance writers.

    Um, which is a long-winded rant explaining why I am once again not attending the L.A. Times Book Festival.

    Interestingly enough, I know a librarian who works in L.A. County.  She assures me that people DO read romance novels in L.A.  Uneducated morons that they obviously are.  / end sarcasm

    I would suggest that if you’re really yanked about the article, that you not leave a comment over at Delaware Online.  I mean, will the author even see it?  Instead, go to link for the L.A. Times where there at the bottom is her e-mail address.  How handy and thoughtful of them….

  3. Very nicely said! Must now go and read all the good responses.

    As a counterpoint, I was so mad earlier this week when I read & reviewed Feehan’s “Burning Wild”—-it was the kind of book, IMO, that gives ammunition to folks who deride the genre.

  4. Natalie says:

    The Delaware News Journal link will also probably be dead in a week or so—they put all their archives behind a pay firewall, which is just awesome for us locals who basically have no other source of local news.

    Also, most of the commenters on Delaware Online are idiots (and as far as I can tell no one’s moderating anything), so expect the thoughtful and informative comments to be drowned out in a sea of stupid eventually. 

    My connection to the romance world is somewhat tenuous, since even though I review for a romance publication I do not review romances and even I have to deal with a fair amount of ignorance.  It’s really, really frustrating sometimes.

  5. Kassa says:

    While her ignorance is stunning and condescending, if you check into her background at her own website, it’s quite possible she did this on purpose. From her own website, she’s described as:

    Equal parts reporter, storyteller, and satirist, Meghan frequently gives public lectures and readings around the country. Known for her humor and acute cultural observations, she has inspired controversy over a range of topics, including social politics, class warfare and the semiotics of shag carpet.

    No doubt she wrote this knowing that in such a popular industry, the educated and intelligent along with the just plain insulted will argue and create more buzz for her intended insult to the romance industry. Furthermore her own book skirts dangerously close to romance standards. She no doubt intended this as a witty, condescending, and intelligent observation at a pathetic culture that refuses to accept reality.

    If you read other columns of hers, she’s constantly arguing her mental superiority over anything culturally popular. She talks about her intelligent hatred of the Oscars (she has a pulse) and the sad delusion of “friends” on twitter, facebook, etc.

    No doubt those with a pulse will be able to refute her ignorant posting, but in the end you have to also consider the source. When someone is better than everyone alive and breathing, pointing out their faults tends to reinforce their world view. Thankfully there are actual reporters to offer researched and well written views on the industry.

  6. Robyn Bski says:

    Yesterday the Today show did a short bit about how romance is doing well in this economy. It took them 30 seconds or so to make a bodice ripper joke. Sigh. It was a generally positive segment though.

  7. Lori says:

    Interestingly enough, I know a librarian who works in L.A. County.  She assures me that people DO read romance novels in L.A.  Uneducated morons that they obviously are.  / end sarcasm

    This is the thing that makes the Book Festival issue so dumb. People look at me funny when I say this, but the LA library is actually quite good. (The downtown branch was one of my 3 favorite places in LA.) The romance section? Well stocked and very popular. I was once number 200 and something on the waiting list for a new Brockmann.

  8. Carrie Lofty says:

    Well, now we all know who she is. Good for her. That seems to have been her intention rather than “reporting.” But those who peddle controversy as their sole means of contributing to the public discourse are among my least favorite people.

  9. she reads says:

    it’s just sooo lame, uneducated, and soooo poorly executed that I can’t even e-mail her (bad as I want to). It’s such bull that a thriving industry full of creative & talented women gets put down by other women. (growls in frustration)

    In most of these novels, the heroine is in a position of not really being able to trust the intentions of her love (or lust) object. And although she desperately wants a happily-ever-after with a cardiologist/secretly wealthy ranch hand/oil tycoon/Ralph Fiennes, she can’t shake her fear that she’s being lied to. And yet she also can’t allow herself to believe that her spicy encounters are anything more than a house of cards that will eventually leave her destitute and alone.

    That part makes me especially “WTF?” because I don’t think even 1% of what I read falls into this ‘what romances are’ category. It’s clear we have an idiot too busy stirring pots to do any kind of real journalistic research.

  10. FABULOUS post Sarah. Figures ap would pick up on that poorly researched, biased article, instead of the NYT one. Sigh.

    Even Publishers Lunch used the word “bodice ripper” in their summary of the NYT article. A term not used in the NYT article. If we can’t stop industry professionals from being derogatory then, well, sigh.

    But as you say, I should stop sighing, and fight back.

  11. I get the LA Times, so I read this article when it originally came out about a week ago. I have to admit that, having read Daum before, I didn’t take it particularly to heart. She’s always snarky and full of herself, and more than willing to opine in the negative about the stupidity of things with which she has no personal experience.

    As for the term “bodice ripper,” I have to admit that I wonder if attempting to excise it from the language is the best tactic. I’m rather of the opinion that we’d be better off co-opting it, the way some in the GLBT community have co-opted “queer.” Thoughts?

    Finally, my verification word is position53. Inquiring minds want to know…what, exactly, is position 53?

  12. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the term ‘bodice ripper’ this week. It’s really quite worn out. The writer’s should use a little imagination and at least come up with something new.

  13. Oops! writers not writer’s. duh

  14. lustyreader says:

    Amen, Bitches, amen.

    Especially liked this turn of phrase, “denigrate, deride, and dismiss.” Alliteration is always bettah.

  15. Teresa says:

    It seems to me you should read a few examples of the genre before you attempt to speak with authority on the formula and the quality of the prose.

  16. Erica says:

    well played ladies!! I also figured that the AP would grab the snarky article rather than the well researched one by the NYTimes.  Its a shame.

    I also love how no one has mentioned that part of the correlation has to do with sales of e-books yet. 

    Also lolz my word was training68, guess I’m not quite at 69 yet.

  17. Jackie,

    I think you are absolutely right. Just like taking over the term Bitch and making it our own. We need to stop fighting the term bodice ripper and just co-opt it.  It’s so ground into the cultural fabric at this point I don’t think we can get the stain out.

    We’re a bunch of smart bitches here. How do we go about making the boddice ripper ours instead of theirs?

    Back to the original subject. Methinks the journalist doth protest too much. What do you want to bet that she wishes she was as well known as Nora?

  18. FYI, just something else to ponder on this.  This is an Op-ed column, which means she gets mad props and thumbs up from her editor and the paper for how many comments she can generate.  Doesn’t matter if those are positive or negative comments. Can she make you react is the only criteria.

    Chances are if this is the best reaction she’s gotten to date in her career on one of her columns, she’s likely to try and hit the same well-spring again in the near future (job security and all that).  So don’t be overly surprised if she pens yet another barely research, self-pontificating blabber that’s negative about romances soon.

  19. Barb Ferrer says:

    From the blog comments on DelawareOnline:

    There are no bodice rippers, Ms Daum. Your information is very sadly out of date. I have been writing historical romances (historically accurate romances) for sixteen years and I have never ripped a bodice yet. That style of romance hit the market with a blinding flash in the 1970s and 1980s but t faded after that becasue it was no longer what women wanted to read. And yet the most popular genre of fiction in the world continues to be denigrated and ridiculed by people like you who have no idea what the market holds today.

    I wanna smish Delle Jacobs to pieces for that, y’all.  Absolutely smish with gratitude.

  20. Suze says:

    I just had a vision of a busty woman ripping her bodice open in frustration, a la “She-Hulk Smash!”

    I vote we appropriate the phrase and make it our own.  “Bodice-rippingly good!”

    “That book was soooo good, I just wanted to rip my bodice in joy!”

    hands78 – umm.  Depends on what they’re doing, I guess.

  21. she reads says:

    cracking up and loving this comment on that article…

    But with my books hitting in the upper ranks of the NYTimes, I suppose I should ignore it when small-minded people poke fun at what they don’t understand. 😉  – Lori Foster

    and have to agree that bodice ripper gets turned into good phrase like Suze said:

    “That book was soooo good, I just wanted to rip my bodice in joy!”

  22. Melissa S. says:

    I can’t help but feel like all the attention to romance novels as big business during tough times is kind of meh. Not to say I’m not proud that it’s being recognized but everytime I see it on the news and online I feel like the reporters have this level of I can’t believe it or why am I reporting this on their face.

  23. Sheila says:

    Where did ‘bodice-ripper’ even come from? Those things are impossible to destroy.

    As someone who used to attend Ren-Faires and wore full costume, including a bodice, I can tell you its damn hard to rip one of those.  Even the laces up the front or back are pretty hard to tear.  Those things take the place of a bra and a girdle and are very sturdy.  Ripping? Pretty much wishful thinking.

    Now if we’re talking throw your skirts up and have at it…that would be fairly accurate…not like they had panties back then…(if I’m recalling my historical costuming research accurately).

    Word:feet58…as in it takes 58 feet of ribbon to trim and lace up a bodice. LOL

  24. Jody W. says:

    Are there any terms equivalent to “bodice ripper” used to describe other genres? I am drawing a blank. I know the scifi / sf/f etc debate exists but scifi as a term isn’t insulting in and of itself like “bodice ripper” is (which sort of boils the whole genre down to attempted rape).

  25. Lori says:

    @Judy W.—-there’s space opera or horse opera, which get applies to certain SF or westerns, but they don’t have the same degree of derision and they aren’t taken to describe the genres in their entirety.

    @Melissa S.: I feel the same way. It seems like all the recent reporting on the success of the genre has this implication that people only read romance because they’re sad and desperate because the world is in such a sorry state. It seems to me that this sort of reporting reinforces the idea that romances are just fluff and mind candy.

  26. Barb Ferrer says:

    Where did ‘bodice-ripper’ even come from? Those things are impossible to destroy.

    I suspect it’s part of the fantasy, that the hero is so crazed with lust that he can rip the ties completely loose.  Or if we’re talking sword/knife-wielding types of heroes, probably that they used their weapons to slice the bodice open (didn’t Antonio do just that to Catherine in one of the Zorro movies?)—which isn’t ripping, per se, but more in the spirit of.

  27. SonomaLass says:

    RE “bodice ripper”: I think such dismissive terms are applied things that appeal mostly to women.  “Chick flick” comes to mind, and “soap opera”—although that wasn’t considered a pejorative when first coined, IIRC.  Maria Irene Fornes writing on “women’s work” comes to mind, but I’m too busy to dig that out of the grad school notebooks.  Essentially the theory goes that in a male-dominated culture, where women are repressed and their roles limited, that which is done by or appeals mostly to women is dismissed as trivial, while that which is done by or appeals mostly to men is deemed important.  That’s in “official discourse” mind you, because the importance and success of women’s work and women’s buying power continue even while denigrated.  So it’s nothing new, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight back.  I’m with SB Sarah about the smart and savvy comments and criticisms—we Bitches rock!

    Of course it is also true that in responding to an op-ed piece, volume of mail and level of controversy encourage more of the same.  So I’ll let the intelligent comments already made suffice.

  28. JoanneL says:

    Since this article appeared did any author find out they weren’t getting a residual check? Did any romance writer put down her pen or turn off her computer and stop writing her book? Did any reader cancel an order for a whole buncha’ romance novels? Did the Harlequin Publishers start to cry?


    Meghan Daum had no new ideas so she took some leftovers from other unispired writers and tryed to be cute. She failed. She’d be a lot more interesting if she actually had something to say.

  29. Gail Dayton says:

    This controversy makes me correlate it to movies. How many stupid fart-joke/clueless-loser-gets-the-girl movies are out there? Is there a derogatory word for those? Why isn’t there a correlating dismissiveness for those movies the way there is for romance novels? Those movies are amazingly, mind-numbingly Stupid, and yet…


    I didn’t comment either, because of the “consider the source” element.

  30. ev says:

    As for the term “bodice ripper,” I have to admit that I wonder if attempting to excise it from the language is the best tactic. I’m rather of the opinion that we’d be better off co-opting it, the way some in the GLBT community have co-opted “queer.” Thoughts?

    Loooooove it!! But who has bodices to rip these days?

    word- left96. I left position53 behind a long time ago.

  31. Willa says:

    I guess I’m stuck being the lone voice of dissent here: at first I was extremely irritated—actually, past irritated and well on my way to pissed off—when I read the first page of the article. But then I read the second, which seemed to sneakily be saying that there’s big value in romance novels, even the formulaic kind. Page two of the article actually has some good stuff to say, IMO.

    Maybe these books are recession-proof not because they offer an alternative to uncertainty but because they reflect it back at us

    I do, personally, read many romances that reflect a woman’s uncertainty and fear of the intentions of her beloved, and I like those romances. That tension is appealing to me, and its resolution.

    As for the formulaic accusation, I’ve read a lot of formulaic romances, so I concede that they exist. The author seems to have read a whole bunch of them as well.

    Where I differ from her and many other people is that I don’t think formula is bad at all. I know what I want. And the editors at Harlequin know how to give me what I want. And not all romances are formulaic, so if you don’t want the paint-by-numbers Billionaire’s Secret Harem Love Child, you can read something completely and totally original and different. There’s quite a lot of that to choose from. Everybody wins.

    And speaking of things that sound bad but aren’t, I love the term “bodice ripper,” and almost always have. It doesn’t have an innately negative connotation to me. That’s only given by other people. I agree—let’s reclaim the term! YAY FOR BODICE-RIPPERS!!!

  32. Lisa says:

    This controversy makes me correlate it to movies. How many stupid fart-joke/clueless-loser-gets-the-girl movies are out there? Is there a derogatory word for those? Why isn’t there a correlating dismissiveness for those movies the way there is for romance novels? Those movies are amazingly, mind-numbingly Stupid, and yet…

    Dick flick?

  33. Wow, I managed to get myself all fired up reading the article…then I started to read the comments and was laughing and cheering so hard, I forgot to be offended!

    It’s so not worth arguing with people who are so close-minded, but, sincere thanks to everyone who so (eloquently) did! So thank you!

  34. willaful says:

    Veering from the topic, but it kind of creeps me out how often I agree with the other Willa. I find myself wondering if I wrote her posts in my sleep. 😉

  35. MichelleR says:

    She really does have an uncanny resemble to Tracy Flick.

  36. Willa says:

    Willaful, if you mean me, absolutely agreed! Sometimes I have to double-check that I don’t have a not-at-all-evil twin on this site!

  37. AQ says:

    My biggest problem with the article is that it isn’t particularly well written. I get snark and her desiccated snobbery but gosh if you want to take a stick and poke fun then do it with more flair. Bleeech. (Yes, I had to use desiccated since she used it first. See I am in 5th grade.)

    My second problem is that US News & World Reports actually used bodice ripper for the list title. Where’s the equal love for condoms or McDonald’s or… I don’t mind snark but isn’t it time for a little creativity and diversity. It’s really quite sad when you think about it. They’re resorting to a term that’s what 30-40 years old.

    The author seems to have read a whole bunch of them as well.

    Not according to what she said in the article.

    Per Ms. Daum:

    If there’s anyone who’s predisposed to being snobby about this genre, it’s me. I wouldn’t buy a romance novel unless it was specific enough to my own escape fantasies to be called something like “Ralph Fiennes, Personal Assistant and Discreet Ghostwriter of Newspaper Columns.”

    And finally from Ms. Daum:

    It’s so easy to poke fun at contemporary romance novels that there’s really no sport in it.

    Well, my response is. It’s so easy to poke fun at this opinion piece that there’s really no sport in it.

  38. AQ says:

    Does anyone else think that 12 parentheses are a bit much in an 825 word article?

    SBSarah & Candy: How about a Jon Stewart interview throwdown? You could do it on Internet radio. Ah, only in my dreams. Roll 2:12.

    Or get your PR person to create some type of a panel debate. Romance critics who don’t read romance vs. romance critics who do. Someone must be willing to sponsor something like that. RWA or Romantic Times or RomanceTV or LifeTime or…

    Get NPR to moderate.

    Ah…roll 2:14 this time.

  39. jmc says:

    On the use of the term “bodice ripper”:  a commenter to the review of A Reliable Wife over at the Washington Post online informed me (when I complained about the condescending term) that it was merely a “family friendly way of saying the novel will leave you flushed and breathless”. 

    I don’t know—is that a commonly understood meaning of the phrase?

  40. MichelleR says:

    Bodice Ripper, in my experience with the term, refers to alpha males tearing the clothes off the heroine’s back—or front—when overcome with animal lust.

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