When “Nice” Girls Attack

Janet of Dear Author offers an excellent rebuttal to Michelle Buonfiglio’s jaw dropping remarks at the Princeton Romance Conference last Friday.

I take exception to one point, however:  I would argue that Ms. Buonfiglio was referring to more than just Smart Bitches and Dear Author.  I think that finger was also pointed right here at All About Romance because…well, gee, because we haven’t been nice girls around here for more than 10 years now.

Thank you, Janet, for your measured words.  I’m not feeling quite so balanced this morning.

-Sandy AAR

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34 Responses to When “Nice” Girls Attack

  1. AAR Lynn says:

    I have to admit that I was also taken aback when I read MB’s remarks- and that she made them while one of the bloggers was sitting right there on the panel! How very nice of her.

    Seriously, though, we’re all passionate about romance here and there will be points on which people disagree. I would much rather have an open, critical discussion on a topic rather than keep my every opinion bottled up for fear of being told I’m not a “nice girl”. After all, there is a lot of good middle ground between the Cult of Niceness where we cannot have disagreement or say something that may be unpopular, and being bitter, malicious or personally vindictive toward people.

  2. MaryK says:

    It seems an odd attitude for an academic to take. Aren’t they supposed to dissect literature?

  3. xina says:

    I can’t say that I disagree with all that she said, but I’m wondering..what set her off? Seems an odd place to take a stand. Unprofessional and all that.

  4. AAR Sandy says:

    Mary K, found this bio at the conference site:

    “Buonfiglio is a summa cum laude graduate of Saint Francis University with a B.A. in writing/fine arts and a core concentration in literary criticism. She’s a former Miss Pennsylvania and a top 10 finalist at the Miss America Pageant where she performed a Rossini aria that was praised by the New York Times.”

    xina, I have no idea of the motive behind it. But it certainly does seem to have been deliberately thought out since she posted her remarks online after giving them on Friday. As I said, I personally found them jaw dropping. And she’s singing an old song: The Cult of Nice is why Laurie Gold founded AAR in the first place all those years ago.

  5. Katie Mack says:

    I thought Buonfiglio’s speech was terribly condescending. I’d never heard of her or her site before (guess I don’t get around much), and read where she talks about readers who don’t like rape scenes as not understanding “the nuances of historical romance.” WTF? Anyway, I don’t want to start that whole debate again. Suffice it to say that her speech wasn’t the only thing I read by her that was condescending to both readers and other romance sites.

    I’m a firm believer that without allowing for dissent, you don’t have freedom of speech. I thought Janet’s remarks on this were great.

  6. xina says:

    Well, a person has the ability to choose whatever online romance forum feels comfortable. I guess I’ve always viewed AAR as middle of the road and not so controversial. At any rate, I smell a kerfuffle. It sort of seems like Buonfiglio is laying down a challenge.

  7. Meljean says:

    I echo the appreciation for Janet’s remarks. They were far more measured than my initial reaction, and with far less $*&! splattered throughout.

    Man, AAR just started us all down the path to meangrrl. Shame, shame :-D

  8. BevBB says:

    I was actually more struck by how much she made herself sound like a celebrity instead of an academic with the use of words such as “fans”, “gig” and “viewers”. As someone who’s fascinated by the whole popular culture phenomenon that is this whole online comunity of romance novel readers, I just found it curious that someone arguing for more serious study of the genre on the one hand would be using those terms – especially while sitting next to someone else who’d just sold a book about the genre total opposite to their own approach.

    Blink, blink. ;)

  9. CindyS says:

    What I pulled from her post/speech was that free speech is only free as long as Ms. Buonfiglio has molded and shaped it the way she wants it. That’s not free speech, that’s a cocktail party where the guests know what is expected of them by the host. No thanks. I have enough bosses in my life.

    And it’s hard to offend me but having her judge a person who hasn’t read Strunk and Write as a person beneath her intellectually had me using my free speech with vigor.


  10. AAR Sandy says:

    Katie, the last time MB was on my radar was over the whole rape in romance thing when her posts had me seething. Methinks she understands the value of controversy since she is definitely the Drama du Jour and no doubt getting lots of hits.

    xina, I don’t think of AAR as middle of the road, but as diverse.

    BevBB, I don’t think she’s an academic — by any measure. I was responding to the question. And I agree with your discomfort because I feel it, too. I also find it interesting that she brings up the Miss America thing over and over and over and over. Hello, not everybody is impressed with that.

    Meljean and CindyS, indignation shared and thanks to you both for posting.

  11. MaryK says:

    From the quotes, I definitely got the impression she was putting herself forward as an academic. But apparently not, huh? “Jaw dropping” is right. Will have to evaluate her blog later.

    I keep giving people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to credentials, and I really need to stop that.

  12. R. Smith says:

    I don’t usually read all the comments on the various blogs. I’m not interested in the critical discussions, especially when they start to flame. But I am glad for this review site. I don’t want to read reviews that only have nice things to say. You can’t trust reviewers who do nothing but praise everything they review, because they don’t give a true picture of a book. If a reviewer does a good job, I can usually determine whether I will like the book or not, no matter what the reviewer’s opinion is. There are DIKs here that I can tell from the review I would not like at all, and there are C’s that I am pretty sure I will enjoy, because the reviewer tells me what they like and or don’t like about it. Thanks for doing such a good job – and not always being a “nice girl”.

  13. xina says:

    Sandy, Well, middle-of-the-road is perhaps not exactly what AAR is, but I only said that because the site is so diverse. I think AAR is a larger community than a blog, so opinions vary, where a blog, with a smaller community, all seem to agree with one another. On AAR there are many opinions, many views. I don’t think we could all agree if we tried, so in that way I think we average out as middle-of-the-road. In other words, I don’t think the opinions are extreme, one way or the other….as a whole.

  14. AAR Sandy says:

    MaryK, Ah, that trust thing. It will always come back to bite you in the ass (she wrote, cynically).

    R. Smith, I hope everybody on staff reads your post because you certainly just made my day.

    xina, you are totally right: There is no communal voice at AAR. Isn’t that grand?

  15. xina says:

    Sandy, Yes! Grand…:)

  16. MaryS says:

    Wow! I am not really quite sure where to begin. Perhaps as a lawyer, I should start with Ms. Buonfiglio’s comments on the First Amendment. I agree with her that the internet is a place of where the First Amendment is working at its finest, but then I would stop when she criticizes the negativity associated with First Amendment expression. Free Speech (since this is really the part of the First Amendment that is relevant), is defined in the negative. It is not about what you CAN say, but about what you cannot. To define those things you CANNOT say is a contentious process that takes us beyond yelling fire in a crowded theater or inciting to riot or treason. Those are limits on speech that are well recognized. To decide what is acceptable speech vs. defamation (since I am assuming by her blog she rejects “rude” “bitchy” behavior and therefore name-calling is of particular importance to her) requires DEBATE which is by its very nature contentious. Of course debate can be civil, but it is still just an argument wrapped up in formality. Having read quite a bit of literary criticism in my day, I cannot IMAGINE anyone who claims to be in academia eschewing criticism. It brings to mind some Stepford wives type mentality or some religious cult where everyone slavishly submits to the doctrine without questioning its authenticity or reality.

    Next…the absolute dripping condescension in her speech left me speechless (for about a nanosecond…but then I am rarely without words). The illumination comments were just simply gratuitous. Those who see things “her” way are Buddha-like in their quest, while the rest of the rift-raft is mired in darkness. ??? It seems to me that Ms. Buonfiglio’s aim is to take the romance genre outside of its female niche and “illuminate” the rest of the reading community. A worthy goal, but the manner in which she thinks that should happen is actually counterproductive to market forces. Controversy SELLS. Ask Salman Rushdie or J.K. Rowling.

    After reading her comments, I actually spent a little time on her site. Sorry, it may be a wonderful community for those who shy from controversy, but in my opinion it is boring in the extreme. There is certainly room for a site of that nature and I am glad that the internet gives us so many options. However, personally I have too many books waiting to be read to spend time on a blog that does not enlighten ME about whether or not a book is worth reading. Sometimes the criticism I read about a book is precisely the reason I buy it. I think Barnes and Noble would be better served to have a resident blogger who cares more about books and less about her agenda.

  17. AAR Sandy says:

    There is definitely room on the Internets, MaryS, for sites like RBTB. What there isn’t room for is site owners who belittle and dismiss what she views as the competition, while promoting her own blog as THE place for discourse. Pffft.

    I checked to see if she had any new comments this morning and her HUSBAND actually posted in defense of her remarks with nary a word from Michelle. I am just so disgusted by that one that I think there is no hope for redemption here.

    If you’re going to make remarks dismissing the entire online romance community – well, other than yourself, obviously – then you should have the vagina to defend them. I think I’m going to write Barnes & Noble today and express my own little, positive, glow-y, light-filled thoughts to them.

  18. Danielle D says:

    Looks like success has gone to Michelle’s head.

  19. KristieJ says:

    While I still can’t claim to understand all the hyperbole she gave – I disagree with what I DO understand of it. I’ll take honesty with a dash of not so nice sometimes over phoniness every minute of the day every day of the week. I think a healthy, well-written, well thought out disagreement over the genre is a HEALTHY thing.

  20. Lori says:

    Her HUSBAND? Seriously? Sheesh, talk about Stepford wife…

  21. MaryS says:

    AAR Sandy said: “If you’re going to make remarks dismissing the entire online romance community – well, other than yourself, obviously – then you should have the vagina to defend them. I think I’m going to write Barnes & Noble today and express my own little, positive, glow-y, light-filled thoughts to them.”

    I agree with you totally. I saw the defense by her husband. That was actually kind of pathetic. After her scathing remarks she has to have hubby come on with a show of muscle to protect his fair maiden. Not that I do not respect loyalty. However, if you are going to put yourself and your remarks out there for public discourse at least have the balls (every pun intended) to defend them. But then that might get contentious and we cannot have that! What is a poor polite girl to do? Veiled and not so veiled criticism is the coward’s trademark. It might behoove Ms. B to learn a little clarity especially if she is going to use words as her livelihood.

    I love books. I love romance, suspense, sci-fi, classics, etc. I read almost every genre. I have had a love affair with books since my mother taught me to read when I was three years old. I love talking about books and picking them apart. I hope there is a library in heaven, because without one it would be my hell. I read all of the Harry Potter books (several times each) with my kids. My kids and I would get the books at midnight the day they were released and then read straight through until we were finished. The rule was no one could discuss them until everyone was finished reading (even if we went into the closet to do so…those still reading might overhear and have the ending spoiled). Then we would discuss the daylights out of them. We have debated Austen, Margaret Atwood, Dickens and Stephen King. Some of more rousing debates have centered around whether or not Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy could attribute some of his behavior to a naturally shy personality.

    The best authors in my opinion are those that invite discussion and debate. If they cannot wring an emotional response from their readers, then why read them? While I read several book sites, I keep coming back to AAR. The reviews have rarely steered me wrong. The implication is that by reading sites that do not conform to Ms. B’s idea of what should be permissible, those of us who thrive on discussion and debate fall short of illumination (does anyone keep having thoughts of Dan Brown’s Illuminati here?). There is no illumination without question. Perhaps because Ms. B’s site has only 37 “bellas” she consoles herself with the idea that the rest of us are simply too unenlightened to understand her. Or maybe…just maybe she has so few because she really has nothing of value to say.

  22. AAR Sandy says:

    Mr. Darcy WAS shy. Remember when he tells Lizzie that he can’t make small talk and she advises him to practice? (I wish I’d grown up in your house!)

    And I read other romance sites, too. But, just like you, I keep coming back to AAR. There’s a reason we all work so hard here and it’s always nice to know that it is appreciated. So, thanks!

  23. AAR Sandy says:

    Danielle D, KristieJ, and Lori: What you guys said.

  24. MaryS says:

    I always thought Mr. Darcy was shy as well and debated that point over at The Republic of Pemberley when we discussed the differences in Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen’s portrayal of him. I guess all of those Janeites over at that site are unenlightened as well . They are a contentious lot and certainly defend their interpretation of Austen.

    I discovered this site about 2 years ago and am certainly glad I did. Thank you for providing this service.

  25. erhea13 says:

    Personally, I view the internet as a necessary evil. For the most part I hate it (I am easily frustrated by all things technological) but it makes school much easier at times. One of my problems with it is that people are not required to take much responsibility for what they say on the internet. Even if MB engaged her critics online, she still woud not be “sacking up” as it were. The speech she gave was not even particurlary ballsy because I sincerely doubt anyone in the audience, other than the one person on the panel, would have been offended by her statements. When someone choses to make the internet her main forum for public statement, she choses to hide behind the distance the internet puts between people. In a Communications Responsibility and Regulation class a teacher quoted the saying that “you’re First Amendment Right ends when my fist meets your face.” This is very true when dealing with people face to face, but the internet imposes no such limitations. I am not saying that all who utilize the internet are cowards, but those who use it as a sheild to be insulting, condescending, or inflammatory are often cowards. Do you seriously think, were she face to face with any of us that she has condescended to, MB would present her opinions in the same manner? MB’s failure to engage critics merely reinforces her cowardice.

    As and aside, I spend too much money on books (I have to own them) to screw around with “diplomatic” reviews. Keep being honest and blunt because thier is enough of a review archive that I can gauge reviewers against books that I have already read. This site is open, honest, easy to navigate, and one of the only sites I spend a good deal of time on voluntarily. Besides, contention is always more fun than easy agreement.

  26. carol irvin says:

    I don’t know where else to leave this as there is no contact us i can find on the AAR site. For many days now, the complete AAR navigation system had disappeared from the top of the page–every single page. i can only click from the home page to things you actually recommend visiting that day. I use Safari on macbook. I am not having this problem with any other site. carol

  27. carol irvin says:

    It is interesting but the only time i participate in the romance community is when i check into this site. otherwise my time is spent elsewhere, both on and off line. anyway, nowhere else i spend time online is there anyone who writes essays about whether you should be able to express yourself freely or not. i don’t know why the romance community has so much trouble with the 1st Amendment but today i discovered yet again another woman with this problem, now over at barnes and noble, upon reading the comments here. what is it about the romance community that triggers this issue? i am completely mystified by it. carol

  28. AAR Rachel says:

    Carol – I’ve checked in Firefox, Explorer, and Safari and have no problem with the drop down menus showing. I’m not on a Mac, though. Anyone else having problems on a Mac in Safari?

  29. willaful says:

    Awesome picture!

  30. Sunita says:


    I’ve had the same problem as Carol for a few weeks. I don’t get the drop down menu in Safari on a Mac or Google Chrome on a PC. Instead, I get the list of links but without the links embedded in them. I don’t get it on Firefox on the PC. I haven’t checked Explorer. This happens on every page. I’ve learned how to work around it, but it’s weird!

  31. library addict says:

    Rachel, I have the same problem occasionally late at night or very early in the morning. I’m on a PC usually using IE or Firefox. The forum threads are all accessible, but the “line” with the links/dropdown menus (Home, Reviews, News, Features, etc) does not appear. It’s as if the page never finishes loading. It has happened several times in the past few weeks. Since I have the AAR home page bookmarked as well as the forum home page bookmarked it’s something easy to “work around” as Sunita said. I thought it strange, but figured it was just my computer. It rarely happens during the morning, afternoon or evening. Or not so that I have noticed anyway. I’m in the Eastern time zone.

  32. Sunita says:

    Rachel, you fixed it! Thanks so much. The site is back to normal in Google Chrome; I haven’t checked my Safari but I imagine it’s fine.

    Thanks again!

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