Commentary

Feminists and Romance Fans: Let’s Fight Our Common Enemy

Romance is one of the most scorned genres of fiction. Straight romances are loaded with cultural baggage regarding gender, so many of these stories are attacked on one side by misogynists and on the other by feminists. The fans who write and love these romances, mostly women, are left feeling embattled. They strike back, and soon the sky is dark with arrows.

If we’re not careful, this can become a fight between critics who stigmatize women’s stories and women who defend rape culture to justify their tastes. In such a battle, only patriarchy triumphs.

We can avoid this trap. Being a feminist and enjoying questionable tropes isn’t mutually exclusive, and reconciling these interests is the most effective way to make both our stories and the world better.

How Misogyny Affects Our Stories and Us

A musclebound, red haired Kovthe from Name of the Wind's cover art. If you believe what people say, Bella from Twilight is a Mary Sue, while this shirtless Kvothe from Name of the Wind is a deep and nuanced character.

It’s easy for feminists to find toxic tropes, and it’s easy for fans to spot feminist criticism. That makes it easier for us to fight each other instead of fighting the casual misogyny that permeates our society. But the strong association between romance and women makes the genre a popular target for misogynist attacks.

At about 1.5 billion dollars in sales a year, romance is the most lucrative fiction genre. In surveys, it takes second place for the number of readers who say they read it. Yet, only five minutes into my internet research, I found an infographic comparing the most popular genres that somehow omits romance while including much smaller genres. There’s no comment about that from anyone who’s posted it, as though this isn’t worth mentioning.

Along with the romance category, young adult (YA) fiction is associated with women and frequently contains romance. YA fantasy romance is the category that Twilight falls in, and this niche overlap between two genres associated with women is a frequent target of scathing critiques. Since almost 70% of YA titles are purchased by adults from ages 18 to 64, what we should probably be asking is why YA is still treated like it’s only for teenagers. Its popularity among adults also helps explain why YA speculative fiction often sells much better than adult speculative fiction.

While popularity doesn’t mean excellence, it is a sign of a genre’s cultural footprint. A genre that does that well is impacting a lot of people. But by the way that people talk about influential books, you would never know these genres were so big. People consistently talk about books in other genres as though they are more important.

The popular consensus seems to be that Twilight is badly written, but it’s not. Sure, it has lots of room for improvement, but so does almost every other bestseller I’ve ever read. Eragon is far worse, but it hasn’t faced the widespread ridicule that Twilight has. Other books by men demonstrate the double standard we have when evaluating whether a work is brilliant or trashy wish fulfillment.

  • The Wheel of Time is just as problematic as Twilight and no better written. It caters to men’s fantasies just as Twilight caters to women’s. I did not want to know that Robert Jordan had a spanking fetish, but it’s too late now. The series was nominated for a Hugo.
  • The first book in Steven King’s The Dark Tower series is the indulgent fantasy of a teenage boy, with a plot alternating between contrived sexual assault and excuses to murder people. Even Steven King pretty much admits it’s immature; he wrote it when he was 19. You’d never know from the conversation around it. I certainly didn’t expect that after hearing my friends rave about it.
  • If the main character of The Name of the Wind were a woman, he would have been laughed off as a Mary Sue. He’s based on the author’s roleplaying character, and he’s the absolute best at everything. The book has several awards and is frequently spoken of with reverence.

Besides giving women’s books a bad reputation, the misogyny directed at romance also affects women at a personal level. At Mythcreants, we’ve noticed a pattern of women writers who tells us that they want to avoid writing something like Twilight while at the same time articulating goals for their story that would make it just like Twilight. It’s the stigma surrounding these books that these writers want to escape, not anything in them. That’s tragic. Writing is hard enough without making writers deal with public shaming.

What Casual Misogyny Looks Like

It’s okay to dislike something, and anything that’s popular is worth critiquing. But unfortunately, when it’s things associated with women that we dislike, it’s easy to slip into misogynistic rhetoric. So what’s the difference?

Let me illustrate with an item that’s controversial for no good reason: the pumpkin spice latte (PSL). Like romance, PSLs are popular and associated with women, which has turned a seasonal beverage into an object of scorn. If you don’t like PSLs, that’s perfectly fine, but the normal behavior for a person who doesn’t like a flavored latte is to not order one. Instead, you might easily find yourself…

  • Ranting about how gross PSLs are
  • Declaring your non-PSL drinking status on social media
  • Reassuring others that you are not one of those PSL lovers

Once your dislike of the PSL becomes performative instead of something rarely worth mentioning, misogyny could be afoot. That’s why simply telling others that you don’t like something that is associated with women could merit a little personal reflection about why you were motivated to share that.

Of course, society might benefit from some criticism of this particular latte or anything else that’s popular. But if you are engaging in criticism, ask yourself…

  • Are you a hot beverage critic in general, or have you decided to engage in critical analysis for this particular drink?
  • Are you spending your energy tearing down the PSL as a whole rather than making specific arguments about its weak points?
  • Have you mentioned these same weak points when reviewing similar drinks that aren’t associated with women?
  • Are you making any jabs directed at PSL drinkers?
  • Are you using gendered language in your criticisms?

It can take some self-awareness to realize when you’ve crossed the line.

How We Can Resist It, Even When Criticizing

Louis, Lestat, and Claudia dressed in Victorian clothing in Interview with the Vampire You may not be a fan of Anne Rice’s work, but there’s no denying she’s one of the most influential writers of speculative fiction.

If you can, be out and proud about the romances you like

Not everyone has the ability to take on the extra burden of publicly embracing things society stigmatizes. But if you like romance in general or stigmatized novels like Twilight, being open about that will force the people who know you to put a face to a group they might otherwise be shaming. Even mentioning that you like a romance from a popular movie or TV show could make a difference.

For instance, Stacey Abrams, a popular politician and voting rights advocate, has let it be known that she writes romance under the pen name Selena Montgomery. Also, she ships Buffy and Spike (Spuffy)* from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Thanks to Stacey, now all of us Spuffy fans know we don’t have to choose between Spuffy and running for office. I just don’t think running for office can compete.

Remember that women are a marginalized group

When straight men depict romance in problematic ways, they are targeting other people with less power than themselves. When women do it in stories for other women, we are usually just hurting ourselves. While that’s not great, it’s not as bad as punching down.

There is also some safety in knowing that a romance with a problematic male love interest won’t be read by many men who might emulate that. The stigma that keeps men away allows women to express fantasies that they wouldn’t want to become a reality.

So remember the context of who a story is by and for. Twilight is by a woman for women. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is by a megacorp and aimed not just at nostalgic women, but also little girls and their families. Twilight should not be immune to criticism, but it’s fair to hold Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to a higher standard.

Be cautious with gendered labels

Unfortunately, labels that are assigned to female characters by critics can easily be picked up by society at large and used outside their original purpose. One such example is the “manic pixie dream girl.” This was originally intended as a critique of the way men write female love interests. Since then, it has been used against any female character with high novelty, not just ones that are male-centric.

The term “Mary Sue” was meant for a specific type of candied protagonist that appeared in fan fiction. But the label has become a tool of misogyny that is wielded against any prominent female hero.

Be wary of using or coining labels that are derisive and gendered, even if their purpose is to critique sexism.

Raise the profile of romance

How we discuss books tells others what books we think are influential or have artistic merit. Even discussing a book means it is worth discussing. So if you’re covering the biggest fantasy franchises out there, Twilight has earned its place on your list. If you’re covering the most influential writers of speculative fiction, don’t forget Anne Rice.

If you like to put a variety of speculative fiction books on your reading list, add some romances in there. If you are part of a book club, submit popular or influential romances to your book club for consideration. Of course, keep in mind what’s comfortable for everyone in your group. A romance without sexual content may work better for some.

Point out the strong or positive aspects of romances

When you are critiquing something, how you approach the work makes a difference. You can declare a story is trash and then go into detail, or you can mention that the work has its strong points and weak points – as most works do – but that you’ll be focusing on its toxic tropes specifically.

Find some aspects of the work that are strong and include them up front. Twilight, for instance, has good characterization. If you can’t find anything you think is worthy of praise, you can look at what fans say about it and summarize the reasons people give for liking the story.

Gently call out misogynistic shaming

If a friend of yours is engaging in what appears to be casual misogyny online or in person,* how you respond will either encourage them to continue or signal that they could be going too far. You don’t have to be confrontational to do this.

Your friend: My coworkers are constantly nattering on about the new Twilight movie and it’s just BLECH.*

You: Well, I heard it added some cool action scenes that weren’t in the book, so I can understand why they’re so excited about it.

If your reaction shows empathy rather than scorn, a person with good social skills will pick up that they’re misogynistic bashing isn’t wanted. If they’re more socially oblivious, consider being more direct about how their words are harmful or how what they said made you uncomfortable. People who intend well can reflexively say misogynistic things, so they might even be grateful that you pointed it out.

Don’t dismiss an entire genre or its fans

It’s productive to critique the specific tropes you’ve seen in romances. It’s counterproductive to badmouth all monster romances or deride the fans of any work, including ones that are problematic. These kinds of attacks give fans every reason to dig in and fight back for all they’re worth. That’s because the logical conclusion of such arguments is to stigmatize them or take their favorite stories away.

If we want fans to acknowledge toxic tropes, we have to be specific about what should change and resist throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you tell me that I shouldn’t ship Spuffy because it’s problematic, I’ll shrug you off as an asshole. If you point out that the attempted rape in Spuffy is incredibly problematic, I can only agree.

How We Can Address Toxic Tropes

Cover art from Spinning Silver. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver contains two romances that are very similar to problematic romances in other works while avoiding almost all of the toxic aspects.

The opposite of making women feel embattled and stigmatized is creating a culture where it’s okay to love something that’s problematic. Normalizing criticism, reminding others that every work is flawed, and validating fans will make it easier for them to acknowledge the flaws in their favorite works.

From there, new things are possible. One of the saddest aspects of the fight between feminists and fantasy romance fans is that there’s too little conversation about how both sides can win. For instance, how can a male love interest be sexy to fans of problematic romances without being controlling? To even consider this question, we have to recognize that many male love interests are too controlling and believe that someone who finds these characters sexy has tastes worth catering to.

And regardless of personal tastes, it is possible to cater to them while reducing a story’s toxicity. It’s not patriarchy itself that’s sexy or romantic; it’s the feeling of having a sexy guy aggressively pursue you, or the conflict of being drawn to someone despite your better judgement, or the wish fulfillment of having the most important man in the world obsess over you. Women have a huge variety of reasons for liking the romances they do, but those reasons rarely include wanting to spread harmful ideas.

Even when a writer wants a love interest to be outright toxic, what that means can change. When I was a teenager, Tom Paris from Voyager seemed like an attractive straight-talking rebel. When I rewatched it ten years later, I thought he was condescending and controlling. The more we recognize toxic behavior and educate ourselves, the better behaved an aggressive love interest can be while still feeling aggressive to fans who like that.

On top of taste, some romances are problematic simply because the storyteller encountered technical challenges they didn’t know how to solve. An attempt at antagonistic chemistry can create characters that are more abusive than the writer intended, and stalking might have been added because the writer struggled to find reasons for characters to meet. These problems have solutions; storytellers just need the right instruction.

In the end, the women who love these stories must want to reduce their problematic aspects. No one else can do it for them.

What We Should Aspire to as Fans

A shirtless Spike leans in toward a windswept Buffy in a cheesy romantic pose I never promised not to post a Spuffy pic.

Getting defensive over the things we love is a near universal impulse. Unfortunately, it’s often a destructive one. To improve anything, we must first acknowledge that it can be improved. But even the most gentle critique is likely to raise a fan’s defenses, particularly when it’s covering a sensitive subject such as sexism or abuse.

It’s especially difficult to acknowledge the validity of criticisms when the critic is being mocking or vindictive. However, that doesn’t make the critic wrong. What’s more, a critic’s tone may be better than it seems. The more upset and defensive we feel, the more negative a critic’s tone will seem to us, creating an unfortunate feedback loop.

Anyone can get better at accepting criticism with time and effort. The biggest trick is believing that it’s okay to love something with serious flaws, and that any weaknesses you learn about do not erase the story’s strengths. No one can take away the positive experience you had with a story, and acknowledging flaws shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the story again.

Learning to listen to criticism without getting defensive doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything a critic says. In particular, people are perfectly capable of pretending they’re promoting social justice when they aren’t. When Fifty Shades of Gray was being made into a movie, I had a family member who shared negative articles claiming she wanted to protect young women from the film’s toxic messages. She was actually shaming people for participating in consensual BDSM.

However, if you’re mounting a defense against feminist criticism, please take a hard look at your argument and how it could be used. For instance, if you say that toxic romance tropes aren’t harmful because they’re fictional fantasies, that could be used to defend any fiction trope. Did the story glorify how the male hero raped his love interest? That’s also a fictional fantasy.

On the other hand, you might say that Edward isn’t too old for Bella because regardless of his technical age, he’s clearly been designed to resemble a teenager. That argument can only be applied to other stories with a specific trope, and you would probably be comfortable defending them as well.

All genres have room to innovate. By listening to people’s complaints about your favorite works, you’ll gain the opportunity to address them when you write stories of your own.


The opposite of engaging in toxic discussions isn’t focusing exclusively on praise. It’s discussing problems constructively. Unfortunately, as a culture we’re a long way from separating toxic and constructive arguments. But with time and self-awareness, we can get there.

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    I have to admit I’m not that much into romances – or so I thought for a long while. I do like m/m romances and erotica (although I often ignore the erotic part) more than heterosexual novels, because quite some authors writing them don’t fall into the stereotypes and give me two rounded characters to follow. K.J. Charles is one of the authors I’d really recommend. She writes historical stories and I have enjoyed most of her books I’ve read, especially “The Henchmen of Zenda” (which is a retelling of “The Prisoner of Zenda” from the point of view of one of the Duke’s henchmen), “Think of England”, and “Proper English” (one of her few f/f romances). There’s always action and a plot apart from the romance, but the romance is also great. I also like Josh Lanyon’s books for a more modern approach – the short story “Halloween is Murder”, which has no sex scenes at all, is one of my absolute favourites, not just on Halloween.

    A great book about female authors defining a genre is “Monster, She Wrote” by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. To my eternal regret, it is not a fan fiction where it turns out Jessica Fletcher was a vampire who killed all those people to feed off them. Instead, it’s a very good non-fiction book about the horror genre and the women who have defined big parts of it with their work. It also dips into why horror was interesting for female writers in the first place and how their stories might diverge from those of male writers in topics (like women in abusive relationships doing what they can to free themselves in Ann Radcliffe’s novels or stories about the ghosts of dead children haunting their mothers).

  2. SunlessNick

    I’ve certainly done my share of Twilight-bashing…

  3. Star of Hope

    I was never much into romance, in fact I viewed it as off putting, and wanted nothing to do with it(I do think it was due to my autism) . But over the years I became more interested in it,so much so that I post this comment to say something about it(which is due to the fact that I kinda desire romantic relationship):

    I really believe there is a certain male-cis-white-Heterocentered market of relationships with tropes very harmful to the viewers like rushed Enemies to lovers, the psychologist-esque role of Women in the relationship e.t.c. I do believe that this can be fixed with better representation like Troy and Benson or Spuffy, which is an good enemies to lovers dynamic, unlike *MAJOR SPOILERS FOR MEMORIES OF IDHÚN* Victoria and Kirtash or how I call him in German:”Kirtarsch. ”

    You aren’t a monster for liking an ship that is bad, because not everyone has good taste and in the end it can be subjective. It’s only bad if you ignore and defend the bad stuff like how Reylo fans attacked Adam Drivers Girlfriend(or wife) for being the real lover of this dude. So with romance you should look for what is the best for the people involved, not what you want.

  4. Sam Victors

    Have you ever heard of these books? The Lustful Turk and The Sheik.

    Both these books are proto-50 Shades, written in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, but mingled with racism; both heroines are sexually repressed or stubborn virgins who were kidnapped and ravished by lecherous Turkish men.

    At the time they written, the Forced Seduction trope (where the heroine falls for her rapist) was used as a way to censor the female writer’s and her heroine’s desires, giving the sex she wants without being guilty.

    But these toxic tropes have had a revival in these toxic romance books (mainly Twilight and 50 Shades) and they need to put away for good.

    • Cay Reet

      I give you 50 Shades for that trope, but for all the problems Twilight really has, there’s no forced seduction. Bella has an agency and sometimes manipulates people pretty badly – endangering her own life to draw Edward out, for instance. She’s a virgin, but not stupid. I’m not a fan of the books (but then, I’m also not the target audience, I’m in-between the Twilight teens and the Twilight moms), but I don’t see any forced seduction there.

      • Sam Victors

        True, my apologies.

        I have heard, mostly from one of my favorite writers (Valerie Frankel) describing Bella as a “wimpy Heroine”

        Another idea for the Forced Seduction is the netflix film 365 Days, which is a classic case of old-timey romance toxic tropes.

        • wnat

          My biggest problem with 365 Days is that it was categorized as romance/drama when the original book was Dark Romance.

          When you’re reading a Dark Romance, you understand that the author isn’t advocating for the relationship.

          • Sam Victors

            Dark Romance? I have heard that once before, as a description for Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

          • wnat

            Dark Romance is a genre with blatantly abusive relationships. It’s romanticized for the purposes of the story, but you understand that the author isn’t endorsing it.

            https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/dark-romance

        • Jeppsson

          I read Twilight, I thought Bella came off as wimpy and whiny a lot of the time, and yes, also stupid. BUT she does have agency. She might use that agency to do stupid shit, but that’s still her doing things.
          Edward is creepy and follows her around (even though this is supposed to be romantic), and he comes off as abusive in many ways. Like, he threatens her and talks about how easily he could kill her, supposedly for her own good, to warn her off, since he’s too dangerous for her and she better realize, yada yada.
          When all this is said and done, though, BELLA very much pursues a romantic AND sexual relationship with Edward, whereas he’s all “oh no, we mustn’t, I’m too dangerous for you”.

          So I think the book has some really problematic messages, but it’s NOT that trope where the woman is raped and then falls in love with her rapist, for all its faults.

          Fifty Shades, since it was originally Twilight fan fic, does have some of the same “Man tells woman he’s too dangerous for her even as he follows her around” stuff. But it also features Christian pushing and arguing Ana into sex she initially says she doesn’t want, and even rape where she says no and he flat-out tells her he won’t listen to her (even though we’re supposed to think it’s NOT rape, because she wanted it deep down or something, and ends up orgasming).
          So that’s an actual difference between these books.

  5. Darian

    I also used to have a bad attitude about romances due to the stigma attached to the genre, but I got into m/m romances like Cay Reet talks about some 10-15 years ago. Now I read mainly queer romances but I will read het on occasion, especially if queer romance authors I already like branch out into het.

    I have been working on my internalized book-shaming by reading what I like and talking about it in public. Last year, I got into fanfiction as well as original romance. I’d avoided that due to having internalized stupid ideas about it (I may like romance but at least I’m not into FANFIC!!) and also because I am mainly interested in the widely mocked but rightfully popular Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter ship. I have been enjoying myself immensely since giving in. (As to Spuffy, I only watched Buffy once, years ago, but that was definitely my preference at the time!)

    Of course with m/m that is written by and for straight women there are potential issues as well, since gay men are a marginalized group and not all female m/m authors consider gay men or queer people as part of their audience. The books might include inaccuracies or stereotypes about gay culture/gay sex, or veer into fetishization. But then sometimes people will point at a m/m story and say that one-half of a gay male couple in a book seems too much like a woman, and that it’s just a disguised problematic het romance, and that kind of comment is hard to adjudicate. Some men are not conventionally masculine, and that’s fine, and they deserve to be in stories too.

    I second Cay Reet’s recommendation for KJ Charles (especially the Magpie Lord trilogy and associated spinoff novels, which haven’t been mentioned yet). I also highly recommend Alexis Hall, who is a rare male romance writer, although that might not be obvious from his frilly purple website / blog (quicunquevult dot com). I believe those two have actually become friends and writing partners, since they’re both British and started publishing around the same time.
    Some highlights:
    – Kate Kane series, f/f, 4/5 done (last book might be out this year or next). Urban fantasy, a bit like Dresden Files but much queerer.
    – Looking for Group, contemporary m/m romance without explicit sex that takes place largely in an MMO like World of Warcraft. (I have a brother-in-law who met his wife that way.)
    – Prosperity series, steampunk. One novel and several shorter works that between them cover a variety of queer relationship models (including the only M/M/F I’ve ever liked, in There Will Be Phlogiston).
    – The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, queer pastiche of Sherlock Holmes/Lovecraft. Not a romance, but quite fun. The Watsonian character is a trans man.
    How to Bang a Billionaire trilogy (m/m, complete): has an obvious resemblance to Fifty Shades, plot-wise, and fixes a lot (all?) of the problematic elements while retaining the basic dynamic. And it’s better written. Not spec fic.

    Rounding out my top three favorite authors is Ginn Hale, who only writes spec fic with (usually) m/m romance. She’s a lesbian but only has one f/f story so far that I know of, The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus. Hale has done a couple of epic fantasy works, The Rifter (complete) and the Cadeleonian series (three interconnected stories, six books total, 5/6 published to date).

  6. mysterious ghost

    Thank you for this well-explained and thought provoking article. I’ve never thought about this topic in these terms but I completely agree with everything said here. It’s important to be able to simultaneously love something and view it with a critical eye.

  7. Gwen

    The romance genre and I have always been a bit at odds. I love romantic plots, but certain tropes leave me uninterested. For example, I am a huge fan of the Dragon Age video game series, and that is largely due to the romances (not a popular thing to say and be a “true” gamer).

    Outside video games, I am notoriously picky. What bothers me most is the lack of established relationships. Right when a relationship goes from infatuation to love, it ends in some form or another. I don’t want to know how they met, I want to see a couple in love. But so many stories center on the idea of love at first sight that they almost never leave room for a relationship to exist outside the initial rush.

    I feel that more stories centered on a loving mutual relationship might help solve some of the more problematic tropes in romances.

    In established romances, female (or feminine coded characters in queer fiction) characters can be a bit more varied. Their love interests can serve more in depth roles as being a Significant other is already assumed as part of the narrative.

    What if the wacky sidekick was the wife? Or the brooding antihero was their live in boyfriend for 7 years? It’s not creepy to look at someone sleep when you share their bed. You don’t need to stalk, you live with them. And we don’t need to always send the message romance is over once a relationship starts.

    • Cay Reet

      I do like the idea of having more established relationships.

      In my own books, I usually bring romances to fruition early, but let characters stay in relationships. Perhaps it’s because of my parents – they were in a very beautiful, mutually respecting relationship for 56 years, until my mum died.

      I do like having Jane in a relationship with a boyfriend who will take care of her when she gets injured on her missions – it’s a genderswitch I can get behind 100 percent.

    • Innocent Bystander

      I feel the same as you. I don’t care for romance novels generally, but if I find a pairing in a video game or show that I enjoy and am on-board with, I will devour (and write) fanfiction about them. Even when it’s usually the same as the romance novels I avoid, though that’s probably because I (and anyone reading it) am already rooting for the couple to get together before even reading.

  8. Zhireve

    Thanks for the post. It’s very well written and makes a lot of sense.

  9. LadyLiterator

    (Mentioning sexual assault/marital rape)

    It’s so disheartening talking about the assault that was shown in graphic detail onscreen in Bridgerton and hearing people say ‘well it’s just a romance show’, as if that explains something or aids them in minimizing it. Okay, sure, the main character rapes her husband and then makes it all about her — that’s really what you think is normal/acceptable for the romance genre?

    • Mrs. Obed Marsh

      FWIW, the show is an adaptation of a novel series first published 20 years ago, and the genre has largely moved on from those kinds of dynamics. Obviously #NotAllRomances, but romances published in the last 5 years tend to take issues around consent seriously. Like with all genres, the romance publishing industry is responding to trends in the broader society, and lots of readers simply aren’t comfortable with rapey protagonists anymore.

      While I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole genre based on one dated example, I also don’t think it’s fair to try and explain away some viewers’ discomfort with Bridgerton’s problematic content by saying “Oh, that’s just how that genre is.” For one thing, it doesn’t have to be that way – though I don’t envy adapters of beloved-but-problematic content for the hard job of trying to “fix” the problematic elements while still capturing what people loved about the original! For another, just as people are free to like problematic things, they are equally free to not like them.

      • LadyLiterator

        Sorry to have offended you. In no way was I trying to demean either fans of the book series/show or people who read romance, and I am occasionally a romance reader myself. I understand the context. What I said was that it’s a terrible practice for people to dismiss issues in a highly problematic work by blaming the whole genre.

        • Mrs. Obed Marsh

          Thanks, I appreciate that.

          • LadyLiterator

            No worries! We were saying the same things, misunderstandings happen.

  10. Mrs. Obed Marsh

    If you’re interested in LGBT historicals, Cat Sebastian is another good one. Even in her “het” series, the Regency Impostors, at least one main character is LGBT in some way.

    • Cay Reet

      I think I’ve read something of hers already, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind, thank you.

    • Gwen

      I also suggest most of Sarah Waters books. She really researches the history thoroughly and writes lesbian romances.

  11. Alverant

    There’s a scene near the end of Twilight where the main werewolf character looks at a newborn girl and tells her father that he’s going to screw her one day. And everyone seems OK with it. Unless Eragon or Wheel of Time has something on par with that level of ewwwww, Twilight will always be at the bottom of the heap. When an author normalizes an adult “imprinting” on a baby or even a child for a future mating there is something seriously wrong with that author.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Just for the record, the entire Wheel of Time series is about treating women like highly sexualized children against their will. It’s easily on par in the ew factor.

  12. Lexy

    It’s amazing to me (and kinda hilarious) how allllll these years later, people still can’t move on from how bad Twilight was. X’D Even me, who was an avid hater of it when it came out because at the time it was the worst thing I had read (not because it was romance necessarily although I never liked romance driven-stories either and still don’t unless it’s queer), I can laugh about it now. I think as a society, we just need to move on. :’D Whether you love it or hate it, it’s fine, I don’t why people treat it like it’s something to be proud of. And besides, when things like 365 Days exist, do we really need to keep beating up Twilight, dO WE.

    ANd even in that case – that book was also written by a women that clearly channeled her own untraditional kinks or whatnot into a book, you know, because she can and men do it all the time. So. |D Yeah. People gotta learn to pick their battles, honestly. And just, let women live for doing the same things men have for eternity OR, if you’re going to drag a female author for something problematic, which is perfectly fine, acknowledge that there’s piles of male authors who have done the same thing. #trueequality

    Anyhow, fabulous article!!! And I just wanted to let you know that I laughed really hard at “I did not want to know that Robert Jordan had a spanking fetish, but it’s too late now. The series was nominated for a Hugo.” wHEEEZING. I am so sorry!! XD

    Also, love the inclusion at how liking pumpkin spice lattes became gendered and shamed for some reason. And became part of the “basic b#tch” stereotype, which doesn’t exist for men. Wonder why. |D

  13. Heather

    When I read romance, it’s fun. And can almost feel like having a casual fling without the responsibility or fallout. So I’m less inclined to care about insta-love or making sure relationships are established before romance happens. Romance in romance novels is a fantasy, so I love the idea of that intense attraction at first sight that sizzles, where the characters circle each other like snakes on a caduceus.

    What I hate is, yeah…that “basic b#tch” stereotype that women put on other women. It shows up so frequently and tends to ruin a good romance for me. And it’s closely related to the “not like the other girls” trope which showed up in a book I’m currently reading, and takes me out of the story every time. The roguish man is even more interested in the demure woman protagonist because she doesn’t respond to his advances, like all the other girls. It even happens in supposedly feminist movies—why do women like to shop so much? What sort of woman would want to wear shape wear? It could have been more elegantly structured into a criticism of a world that forces women to wear such things. But instead, it came off (to me) as a punch out at the women who put up with it.

    Also, something else I’ve noticed about criticisms of women protagonists in YA…these women are usually in their late teens. Early 20s at best. And they’re slammed for making silly decisions and being wishy washy and changing who they are to suit other people. Again, these women are in their late teens. Why are we expecting women in their late teens to be fully formed human beings when we know the human brain doesn’t work like that? I might be blinded by bias, but I don’t see the same criticism leveled at men.

    • Cay Reet

      I never got why teenage (or just past teenage) girls get called out so much for their behaviour. That’s how you are at that age, it’s perfectly normal.

      I also think that male characters are less criticised for the same (I mean, Harry Potter, for instance, had to get pretty bad for people to criticise him in OOTP). It’s just ‘what boys do’ but girls aren’t given the same leeway.

  14. Primrose

    I’m a feminist romance fan, moreover… I like Spuffy, and I used to like Twilight. I can levy the feminist critique on BtVS that hey, it was really misogynistic for the writers to decide that brutalizing the main female character was in any way an appropriate way to inspire growth in a male character. In fact, I think just about every single relationship in the show has some deeply problematic elements to them, and I don’t even consider Spuffy the worst offender because at least it was self-aware. I still enjoy it and it’s characters, dated as some jokes and scenarios are. That’s okay, I’m not a hypocrite or a bad person, I’m just capable of being cognizant of the flaws in things I enjoy while still enjoying them.

    I really think the biggest problem with the “Romance Genre” discourse is the inability to understand that last section. That it’s okay to like something with problematic elements and being critical doesn’t mean you hate it. It leads to two very destructive extremes; either you try to ignore those elements and thus contribute to normalization, or you declare anyone who likes the thing a horrible person. This article is spot on. We need to learn to criticize without trying to apply a moral label onto the people enjoying that media, as well as learning it’s okay to be critical of the things we enjoy.

  15. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s note: I’ve removed a few comments because they chose to attack the author’s character, which is not allowed.

  16. Jason Duncan

    Great post! This ties in nicely with the article about Jerkass inclusion. I catch A LOT of grief for reading the Twilight series. My orientation has been questioned repeatedly. I simply say that I found she wrote depression in a way that helped me. I found it life changing to be able to frame it in my mind that way moving forward, since I struggle with depression in real life.

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