Sometimes you are watching a movie and someone says something that makes you almost jump and say “That’s me!”. If there is one that made me do that it’s in The Princess Bride. The boy, having agreed to have his grandfather read him a story that was said to have sword fights and sports, instead contains romance in the first few pages he asks:
Everything from his exasperated look, annoyed tone, and on point delivery of that line spoke to me. I had found a kindred soul and a great thing to say whenever I ran into kissing books or movies. Now, this was when I first saw the film. I didn’t know that by the end he would be on board with all that kissing and “As you wish”es. Of course, so was I; but I proudly declared it was because this was “not like other romances”. Yes, this was indeed my “not like other girls” phase.
comform to noncomformity
For a very long time I was very vocal about my distaste for love stories. I would say I hated it when it was the central plot, when it was done all sugary and “girly”. See I didn’t hate romance itself. There was plenty of love stories I liked that where subplots, at least as far as I was concerned. I liked “unconventional” couples, or those that might not be so popular with fans. I was convinced that it was only that I was not into it. That because many people in my family did like these things I was just over saturated. It was just that I was not the “type” that liked these things. But as time passed, I realized that it was not exactly this.
There is this tendency to praise girls for putting others down. Hating on other girls seems to be seen by many as something unavoidable. One of the ways this tends to happen the most is by praising girls who reject femininity. Those who reject the things that the culture at large associates with this. Romance is often on the forefront. You are expected both to reject it and crave it. To want a relationship but not want it like those other girls do. To both shame the girls who wear high heels and embrace this while you build yourself a pedestal for wearing sneakers.
diving in the chick pool
It took me some time, not just to unlearn those tendencies, but to realize what I was really saying when I would say I didn’t like these stories. It wasn’t the love story, it wasn’t the “girly” things. What I really disliked was the biased point of views of these stories. Most are attached to very heteronormative standards. There was also a lack of representation of the intersectional aspects of women themselves. For example, 27 Dresses is a film that has so many aspects that follow standards of the Romantic Comedy, or Rom-Com. I can barely watch it. But then there is the webshow Her Story. It shares many story elements, including one of the main couples meeting because one is a writer and wants to interview the other! But this story follows two trans women as they find love. It was written by two of the lead actresses. The cast includes a diverse group of queer women. It makes the same story lines get new life.
I dived into the pool when I took a job as a ghost writer. I thought that even with my dislike, I had seen enough of these traditional rom-coms to be able to recreate it. Of course, a chickflick and a chicklit are two different forms of media. While they share elements they don’t work the same way. the right thing to do, I decided, was read at least one story.
My choice was The Boss by Abagail Barnette. Having seen it recommended in twitter as an answer to 50 Shades of Grey and the first book in the series being free, I went in with low expectations thinking it would just be some fun. Fast forward to the writer having announced a new part to the series and me looking to get it because I need it. While not as revolutionary as Her Story, it still had so many things in it that went against most of the conventions of romance. I was hooked.
who runs the book world-girls!
It wasn’t just a new appreciation for a genre I actually enjoy. I was also inroduced to a really great community. It might not be perfect and still have a lot to work on. But compared to other genre’s, romance writers are among the most experimental there is! And then there is the fact that the demographic is a majority of women. This genre is the one that centers around mostly women. And most importantly, it caters to the pleasures of women. This is not something that can be said for any of the other literary genre’s. Romance doesn’t want women to feel ashamed of their fantasies. Being so open to experimentation, it means this includes writers of color, queer writers, writers that combined different genres. Even with the many issues, there was still enough fish in this sea, so to speak.
So much can be written about the genre and it’s audience and writers. It’s a wonder that it is not regarded as something worthy of study unless it was written at some point in the 19th century. We can’t forget that during their time, a writer like Jane Austen was considered in a similar standing to all these books.
The appeal of this community, as well as this new found acceptance for my actual love of…well…love, also shaped my writing. Even when writing obvious romances,fan fictions in need of a huge thematic overhaul, I never would have considered myself as writing those. Looking at some of the excuses I would make about what these stories where, it makes me roll my eyes. Romance is a part of life. Yet we sneer at readers who like to fantasize about it. At the same time, we see nothing wrong with fantasizing about elves. The shame is such that romance helped push the sales of e-books, allowing many to read them without anyone knowing. There is no ignoring the main reason to why all this is shamed, seen as low quality, or ridiculed, is because the main audience and creators are women. Yet at the same time, this is what makes the genre so open. When you are seen as a failure from the start, you have nothing to loose.
A final note from a new convert
There is so much more I could add to this post and go deeper still in defense of chicklit and chickflicks. So many newfound authors to recommend like Alisha Rai, Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Gaby Rivera, to name a few. So many sites to find varied books by diverse writers. The community and genre is so grand and diverse there is a documentary about it. The firs bookstore dedicated exclusively to romance and it’s sub-genres (which can shop at online)opened recently in California. Much can be written about the genre and it’s audience and writers. It’s a wonder that it is not regarded as something worthy of study unless it was written at some point in the 19th century. We can’t forget that during their time, a writer like Jane Austen was considered in a similar standing to all these books.
I still don’t like a lot of what is out there when it comes to romance. Too many a chickflick, rom-com, or chicklit book still have so may of the tropes that made me avoid the genre in the first place. But generalizing meant I missed out on some aspects that I would have always liked. Accepting it was these tropes, not the story, itself that bothered me helped me stop feeling like romance just was not a part of my life and probably would never be. It’s a pity that it took this long to unlearn these internalized, at points self-hating, views that kept me from enjoying these stories. I suppose what I would want to add to this community is more voices that move away from these damaging tropes. I can’t wait to get my hands on a new kissing book I would love.
what are some of your favorite kissing books or movies? did you have anything in particular that made you fall for it or had you always loved romance? share your own experiences and favorites in the comments!
Featured Image: The inside of The Ripped Bodice, in California. From the store site.