LOVE'S PHILOSOPHY (POEM):
ON A DATE WITH JANE AUSTEN:
Julie Pitzel has been a receptionist, radio DJ, bill collector, telemarketer, administrative assistant, community college instructor, and an expediter (aka professional nag). She’s been involved in the Houston writing community for many years including two years as President of a local Romance Writers of America Chapter. She writes paranormal fiction from a geodesic dome south of Houston, where she lives with her husband and a pair of cats. This is her fourth appearance in Heart’s Kiss.
YOU READ THAT?
Genre Shaming and How to Deal With It
by Julie Pitzel
Never allow anyone to shame you for what you read.
After a panel at the local comic con, I asked one of the other attendees what they liked to read. She replied with an embarrassed wince and an apologetic expression. I knew instantly that someone had ridiculed her reading choices.
All fiction genres have their critics. Some people don’t like mysteries or think science fiction is too technical. Others can’t get behind the ordinary-man-saves-the-world trope of a thriller. Literary fiction is sometimes described as having all the excitement of bellybutton lint. Suspense and horror are just too dark or gory for certain individuals.
I get it, we all get it—different people like different types of stories. Genre shaming isn’t about whether someone dislikes secret-baby romances or dystopian YA’s. It’s about someone saying “I don’t like them, and you shouldn’t like them either,” and then going on to insult the reader. Of all the genres, YA and Romance get the biggest brunt of these attacks.
I’ve seen articles indicating that young adult stories should only be read by young adults. Anyone over the age of eighteen who finds enjoyment in teenage dramas or coming of age adventures should put those stories down immediately and find suitable adult fiction. Preferably something with a “big” message and an ambiguous ending. They believe stories written for “children” don’t have the complexity of plot, nuanced characters, or beautifully constructed sentences of “adult” literature (Piffle!). One article stated that adults should be embarrassed to read YA’s.
Embarrassed? Nope, nope, nope! Be embarrassed when your child tells the world they ate a booger, you trail toilet paper out of the bathroom on your shoe, or you discover your zipper was down during a presentation. Don’t be embarrassed that you enjoy a good story simply because the target audience is younger than your physical years.
Where do I start with the insults for romance? Romance fiction is frequently called mommy porn because it has “S.E.X.” (whispered behind a shielding hand) and so it must be pornographic and slutty, and shame on you if you enjoy reading it. I’ve heard that—a lot. It’s different when sex appears in literature, but then few romance novels are nominated for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Of course we’re also told that romance is not realistic. The feisty historical women of romance are pure fantasy, and couldn’t have existed during that time period (any time period—the detractors never do any research because they always know). Boudica and Joan of Arc are flukes of history, in their minds.
Critics insist that romance fiction is anti-feminism because everyone knows a romance heroine is just waiting for a hero to solve her problems and then ravage her. These days the heroine is as likely to ride to the rescue as the hero. One psychologist stated that reading romance fiction was bad for women because it gives us an unrealistic view of relationships. She suggested that women who read the genre were making decisions based on an idealized version of romance (because we obviously don’t know what the term “fiction” means). But other psychologists assign romances to their clients, male and female, to help them with relationship issues.
There should be no shame in reading stories that have Happily Ever Afters. It doesn’t matter if the pages are filled with sex and lust or are sweet enough to read out loud to your mother’s church group. And if the men and women reading romance want their own Happily Ever Afters (or at least good sex), how is that a bad thing?
So what do you do when someone questions your reading choices or tries to shame you? I’ve listed a few possible responses below.
Let it go: Some people are content to issue an insult and go on their way—drive-by dissing. Others thrive on getting a reaction; they want to see you squirm. Usually the best response is to just smile and walk away. A lack of reaction will bother them more than any reasoned explanation. Your time is better spent reading.
A good offense: It doesn’t matter what you’re reading, some people will question its value and imply you are less for reading it. If avoiding the conflict isn’t possible, don’t fall into the rabbit hole of defending your choice. The detractor won’t care that AARP members read YA and middle-grade books, they won’t believe stories of truckers buying a dozen romances a month, and they won’t understand the artistry of a graphic novel. Instead, turn the conversation back on them. “What do you like to read?” or “Wow, I’ve never read Nietzsche. What would you recommend as an introduction?”
Chances are your response will surprise them. Maybe by asking their preferences and recommendations, you can start a conversation. Hopefully they’ll begin to understand that one type of story isn’t better or worse than another. They may never accept your choices, but it could be a start.
Bullies are bullies are bullies: A coworker and his buddies would often ask me about the books I read during lunch. They were sly, vaguely insulting questions, followed by ribald laughter that I usually ignored. One day I was reading a Harlequin Blaze. The title referenced adult toys and he had to ask for more information—so I gave it to him. In frank, but clean, language I described the plot and the heroine’s sex toy business. He never asked what I was reading again.
When possible, ignoring a bully is the best response. Keep in mind that they are trying to embarrass you. Sharing plots and messy emotional information about the stories shows you’re not embarrassed. It frequently turns the equation around and embarrasses them instead. Use with caution.
It’s for your own good: Years ago, my oldest brother gifted me with a book protector to hide my romance selections. He was truly perplexed that I didn’t see the need. This was the 80’s, the height of the bodice rippers when covers were anything but modest. Buxom heroines in flimsy, tattered gowns clung to shirtless heroes. And I. Did. Not. Care. I liked science fiction, fantasy, and scandalous romances and would tell that to anyone who asked. Hiding the covers wouldn’t have changed my reading habits, but it would’ve added fuel to the belief that I should be uncomfortable about them. And being uncomfortable, feeling the need to hide my choices, might’ve influenced which books I picked up at the bookstore and the library.
There are going to be situations when it’s not wise to flaunt your favorite books. If the person belittling you is a boss or your mother-in-law, maybe discretion and fake Shakespeare covers are the better part of valor. Avoiding an unwinnable conflict is not a disgrace.
We all have different tastes, and no one else has to like what you’re reading. Shame and embarrassment are imposed on us by others and only work if we allow it to be imposed. When we don’t accept it, when we own our choices, we take that power away from them.
Like my favorite heroines, I try to be bold, feisty, and courageous. I will not only defend my reading choices, I’ll promote them. Romance fiction offers such a wide variety, I’m convinced that if the detractors ever read a romance, they’d probably love them, too.
2017 by Julie Pitzel.
Heart's Kiss Magazine
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