Top Ten Clichés About Romance Novels (and Romance Readers) I Never Want to Hear Again

fabioA few articles with the usual dribble have appeared in various media over the past few weeks.  I’m not going to link to them (well, except to one truly extree speshul example of idiocy), because we see this kind of crap all the time and I’m not going to give them any extra hits.

But we all know the clichés, right?

10. Romance Novels are porn for women. Ah, yes, that old classic still resonates with idiots who love to sing it. It’s an oldie but a goodie that has sunk to the number ten spot because there is a new spin on this one that’s far more amusing. (See number one.)

9.  The only ones who read romance are _______________(Pick one: Old Maids, fatties, blue hairs) too stupid to read anything else. Hey, if you’re stupid enough to believe that blanket clichés are in any way accurate, how ’bout this one: Any guy who reads literary fiction must have…limitations if you know what I mean. (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more)

8.  Women who read romances are sexually repressed ____________(Pick One: Old Maids, fatties, blue hairs). See above.

7.  All romance novels are the same. What is there to say to this one, except maybe, well, you know read one or two before you make a judgment.

6. You women just love those ripping bodices. Hey, pal, do you even know what a bodice is? I thought not.

5.  Romance novels are anti-feminist. You know what I think is anti-feminist? Women who judge other women without knowing what the hell they’re talking about.

4. Romance novels lead girls to have unrealistic expectations about life. Okay, well with the exception of those hardcore dreamers still waiting for the discovery of time travel so they can tootle on back to the Regency, I think it’s safe to say we have  a handle on this.  It’s fiction.  We know this.

3.  Anyone can write a romance novel. I’ve heard this from the usual idiot faction, but also from people who should know better.

2. Writing a romance novel is a quick and easy way to earn some fast bucks. (See number 3.)  Absolutely!  Get right on that, idiots!  It’s a really productive way to spend months – even years!

And now taking the top spot is a new level of idiocy recently featured on a Salt Lake City TV station’s Web site:

1. Romance Kills. Yes, we women are more motivated by romance than men (and a big duh to that one) and we’re releasing the same deadly and addictive brain chemicals when we read romance as men do when viewing porn. The author offers some helpful tips to reduce your addiction and they’re just too good not to share:

Break the Addiction
  • Commit to stop reading romance books
  • Commit to working on your relationship, if you’re in one
  • Find a different hobby, or find a new genre of books to enjoy
  • Invest in your real life, not fictional characters

Much merriment was had at the hashtag #romancekills and it’s worth a read if you haven’t yet.  The one heartening thing about this bull is that so many stood up to call it bull. And you have to laugh, right? It’s the only way to react to this kind of horse crap.

- Sandy AAR

47 thoughts on “Top Ten Clichés About Romance Novels (and Romance Readers) I Never Want to Hear Again

  1. I love #5! Romance novels are anti-feminist. You know what I think is anti-feminist? Women who judge other women without knowing what the hell they’re talking about.

    That judgmental attitude drives me batty. I’ve heard it all my life. Anyway, great post!

  2. When people spout #4 bothers me the most out of all of these, and I’ve heard all of them. Whomever says this assumes that every woman who reads romance novels doesn’t understand what ‘fiction’ means, and I find it so offensive!

  3. Awww, isn’t it cute when people make remarks about subjects with which they have clearly not done the research?

    All romances are the same? Interesting. Does that refer to the series books or the single titles? Historicals, contemporaries, paranormals or time travels? Category, mass market, trade or ebook? With all the subgenera romance has to offer, I can get confused with such a sweeping statement.

    The only ones who write/read romance are…oh dear. Again, the women, and for that matter, men, who read and write romance range from students to at-home parents to lawyers, doctors, active duty or retired military personnell, clergy members of traditional and nontraditional faiths, educators, entrepreneurs, business people and government workers for a few random occupations. Education levels from dropped out of high school to PhD. Can’t generalize there.

    Anyone can write a romance novel? Great. Here’s a notebook. I’ll be back at the end of the week so you can show me yours, oh spouter of inanities. Have at it. Should be easy. I’d like to see these people try.

    Romance novels are porn? My favorite response is to ask which books they read that gave them that impression. Usual answer? None. So said person does not know what they are talking about, do they?

    As for unrealistic expectations, hmm. Is it unrealistic to believe women (or men) can be treated with respect, lead interesting lives and find a mate they love and who loves them? I’d hate to hear what the detractors think realistic expectations might be.

  4. Pingback: Top Ten Clichés About Romance Novels (and Romance Readers) | The Passive Voice

  5. Being truthful, yet amusing is a hard combo! The core of all the anti-romance feelings is sexism. There is NO WAY that if the majority readers were men, that romances would be held in such contempt. If you gave the “anyone can write one of those” sneerers a pen, of course they would fail, but when people are so resistant to the truth, the opinion would not be changed. They would say (and believe, dammit) that “I am too smart to write a romance.” In truth, more people should read romances because they are optimistic, and would teach men to be more romantic, thus strengthening their relationships. My friends are intelligent, yet WITHOUT HAVING READ A ROMANCE THEMSELVES, are experts about how stupid the genre is. When I have pinned them against the wall, mildly asking how many they have read, they just lapse into silence, but clearly, they know they are right.

  6. My mother always said that women were their own worts enemy. It disheartens me that this is so true even nowadays.

  7. I can’t help but think of this exchange between Leo and the family governess, Catherine Marks, from Lisa Kleypas’ “Married by Morning”:

    *****

    “Then how can you be sure you wouldn’t like it?”

    “I can have an opinion about something even if I haven’t done it.”

    “Of course. It’s so much easier to form opinions without being troubled by experience or facts.”

    She frowned by kept silent.

    *****

    Anyone who states that romance novels are bad for our health (mental or otherwise!) is obviously in this category of being opinionated without gathering the proper facts first. Does any romance reader expect romances to mirror real life? We get real life all the time! That’s why we read! Talk about stating the obvious…

    The comment I run into most often is “Aren’t they all the same?” I just want to bang my head against a wall repeatedly. And then dump a truck full of romances of all various lengths and types on their front lawn!

  8. Drats, that last line is supposed to read “but”, not “by”. (Where’s auto correct when you need it?)

  9. Yes, I personally love how they kill marriages. And the hashtag #romancekills is hilarious.

  10. Break the addiction appears to come from a website of the Latter Day Saints. Is this an organization that I would trust with advice on relationships or intellectual development or pleasure? Absolutely NOT! Would they be interested in my ingrained stereotypes about Mormons: anti-female, anti-intellectual?

  11. Hearing #3 is something that I can really identify with. I actually had a friend tell me that. And she’s never read any of my romances, for the record. It must be tempting for some people to say that something is easy to do when you’ve never done it yourself.

  12. Romance kills, slowly…one book at a time. Can’t think of a better way to end it all. Bring it on. :)

  13. I can honestly state that I know lots of women who read romances. In all that time I *have* actually met one person who fell into category #4. This was not because the words in a book led her to have unrealistic expectations about life, but because she was an amazingly messed up person who had phenomenal issues and a complete disconnect with reality. If a man smiled at her she thought they were soul mates. A friend of mine pretended to be gay just to convince her to leave him alone.

    Personally I read a lot of them when I was younger because I read anything I could get my hands on and my mother loved regencies. I read several hundred of them and concluded that there were two major plots: they meet, fall in love and spend the whole book trying to get together. or they meet hate each other but are somehow forced into marriage before the first half of the book and then fall in love. So I got bored and stopped reading them.

    Some were good enough that they stuck with me. Not because of the general plot, but because the hook the author came up with was different enough that it was an unusual read. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that there are only so many plots out there. It’s the *characters* that are important. If the author puts cardboard people on the stage and moves them around to the same old plot I’ve seen before I’ll be bored. If they give me interesting people to care about then I’ll root for them to get together even though I know the end. It’s not where they’re going. It’s how they get there. And the *how* has to be rooted in the characters.

    I don’t read straight romance anymore. I want characters I can love for more than one book, so I stick with serial novels. But I do look for serial novels that have long running romance threads in them. (J.D. Robb is a personal favorite) Because I like seeing people fall in love and deal with those issues. I look for series that either don’t have sex at all or keep it mostly behind doors. I’m not interested in the sex scenes. I want to watch two characters grow together. I want to see the conflict and the interplay and the resolution to a happy ending.

  14. Okay a couple of things:

    1) A lot of readers and most non-readers judge books by their covers. Look at the illustration decorating this blog piece. Would you read this book if you knew nothing about it or about the genre it represented to YOU? What about the books alongside the blog and comments? Would you read them?

    2) If romances are so easy to write, then why can’t mainstream fiction B listers write them and shore up a fan base? Five or ten years ago when the bottom fell out of mainstream fiction, writers were scrambling into the genres to get readers so their careers didn’t die. What they found was that genre readers expect certain things: the bad guys get caught, the boy gets the girl or boy, a believable world is built. What they didn’t expect was that the writer of genre fiction has to believe in the genre to write a good book. And that’s pretty much impossible to do if you deride the genre to yourself and your friends.

    (A none of that takes in the cat remarks: Romance readers all own cats.)

    • AARPatH: Okay a couple of things:1) A lot of readers and most non-readers judge books by their covers. Look at the illustration decorating this blog piece. Would you read this book if you knew nothing about it or about the genre it represented to YOU? What about the books alongside the blog and comments? Would you read them?2) .(A none of that takes in the cat remarks: Romance readers all own cats.)

      I have always thought that some, well…many covers on romance novels are very unfortunate. I don’t like them, so in that way I cannot defend the genre, but I don’t judge a book by it’s cover like so many do.I can see where those that already are convinced that the genre is garbage, would have their opinion reinforced by the covers.

  15. When I hear a potential boyfriend telling me #4, I immediately loose interest in them.
    So maybe I do have unrealistic expectations, and maybe romance kills relationships because I do not want to be with someone that bashes my interests.

  16. My response to romance novels not being like real life is are spy thrillers like real life? What?? There not??? Why do you read them? Oh, because theyre interesting and fun and allow you to escape reality for a bit. Okay. Enough said.

  17. first of all i TOTALLY have the book pictured above, Man of My Dreams by J Lindsey of course! so good, and totally goes with your previous post on horrible covers, but it still brings back good memories. *nostalgic sigh*

    and great sum up of the cliches, seeing them all in one place makes me see red though. *shakes head sadly at the ignorance out there*

  18. (Romance Novels are porn for women. Ah, yes, that old classic still resonates with idiots who love to sing it. It’s an oldie but a goodie that has sunk to the number ten spot because there is a new spin on this one that’s far more amusing.)

    Yes, James Bond and other action books and movies where the “hero” kills 20 people and screws every woman that can’t climb a tree fast enough is SO much healthier.

    What? They’re JUST entertainment? Well, I like my entertainment to include two people finding love.

  19. This is what I’ve distilled from romance-novel bashing: LET’S PROTECT TEH DELIKKIT WIMMINZ!!!

    We get it from feminists.

    We get it from religionists.

    Clearly nobody thinks we can function on our own. Thanks for infantilizing us, those of you on both ends of the spectrum.

  20. Those that complain about romance novels should not read them, go find something else to do.

  21. Is there a change coming? It looks like Nora Roberts wants to change the perceptions of the romance genre. The Nora Roberts Foundation has awared McDaniel College in Westminster, Md $100,000 to establish a minor in romance fiction and to expand the library’s collection of romance novels that will cover the colonial period to the present.

    http://www.examiner.com/nora-roberts-in-national/nora-roberts-foundation-awards-mcdaniel-college-100-000-grant

    What a great step forward for romance. I think I may be the first in line to take the classes and see the book collection.

  22. Many years ago I was a romance mocker *hangs head* but I knew a lot of smart, impressively educated women read them. It was the covers–shirtless dukes in capes. Seriously. And then I read one and then another and then about a thousand more. Oh yes, this is seriously good happy-making stuff. I’ve made up for my former mockery by officially apologizing to my #1 target and by converting quite a few friends who were missing out on all the fun. And I have a cat.

  23. That article was offensive to me on so many levels. Having a close friend who struggles with sexual addiction, it’s hard for me to fathom how any rational human being could equate a reading preference with that.

    I was also bothered by the suggestion to put down the romance novel and go find a date. Because, ladies, we all need a man to feel complete and live a fulfillng life, right? *sigh*

    Proud mom to multiple kitties! And dogs. No discrimination here.

  24. Terri: Break the addiction appears to come from a website of the Latter Day Saints. Is this an organization that I would trust with advice on relationships or intellectual development or pleasure? Absolutely NOT! Would they be interested in my ingrained stereotypes about Mormons: anti-female, anti-intellectual?

    Generally I try really hard to let these comments pass by, but considering the whole context of this blog is not judging things that you don’t understand, I just have to comment. I was born and raised in the Mormon church, attended Brigham Young University, served a Mormon mission for 18 months in Brazil, and lived in Utah for six years after college. I also am an avid reader of all sorts of books, including romance novels, of which I probably read three or four a month, (and thoroughly enjoy.) And no, I don’t appreciate your (untrue) stereotypes of Mormons anymore than I appreciate the (untrue) stereotypes described above concerning romance novel readers. (FYI — The writer of the article that was referenced, while a Mormon, was speaking her own opinion, and not on behalf of the Mormon church.)

    On a happier note – I thoroughly enjoyed the #RomanceKills twitter comments from authors, readers, and non-readers alike! It’s great to see so many recognizing the sheer ridiculousness of things that are ridiculous and having fun with them. :-)

  25. And no, I don’t appreciate your (untrue) stereotypes of Mormons anymore than I appreciate the (untrue) stereotypes described above concerning romance novel readers.

    Neither do I.

    We are not some monolithic hive mind, and that woman was not speaking on behalf of the church.

  26. Well, is is true of almost anything annoying, there are some grains of truth here and there. Not all romance novels are alike, but there have been quite a few reviews here on AAR of specific novels in which the basic conclusions was “nothing new — just the same tired old stereotypes rehashed once more.”

    That’s not unique to the romance genre, but it does happen.

    It should also be pointed out that in the first half of the 19th century, the criticisms about romance in #1 were leveled by many religious authorities against novels (fiction) in general. My great-grandfather’s diary from the 1850s has the shocked comment that a newly met twenty-something female cousin from Philadelphia was “a novel reader!” He wrote “novel reader” in a different lettering style and underlined it.

    There’s occasionally something new under the sun, but it’s rare.

    • Virginia DeMarce: Well, is is true of almost anything annoying, there are some grains of truth here and there.Not all romance novels are alike, but there have been quite a few reviews here on AAR of specific novels in which the basic conclusions was “nothing new — just the same tired old stereotypes rehashed once more.”That’s not unique to the romance genre, but it does happen.It should also be pointed out that in the first half of the 19th century, the criticisms about romance in #1 were leveled by many religious authorities against novels (fiction) in general.My great-grandfather’s diary from the 1850s has the shocked comment that a newly met twenty-something female cousin from Philadelphia was “a novel reader!”He wrote “novel reader” in a different lettering style and underlined it.There’s occasionally something new under the sun, but it’s rare.

      No offense to your great grandfather, but it’s a shame he never read Northanger Abbey, where the hero says:

      The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

      I love novels. I read non-fiction, too, but I still love novels.

      • Julie:
        No offense to your great grandfather, but it’s a shame he never read Northanger Abbey, where the hero says:
        I love novels.I read non-fiction, too, but I still love novels.

        There’s quite a chunk at the end of Chapter 4, or possibly Chapter 5 of NH, where Austen defends novels most eloquently. I quote it from time to time in workshops or to answer idiots like the writer of this article. (And the twits who ask when I’ll write a real book. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, Austen and the Brontes, then it’s good enough for me.) Sandy is dead on when she says you just have to laugh. And call it bull, of course.
        We can tell the difference between fiction and reality, thank you very much. That is exactly the point Austen makes in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine fails to make that distinction. We forgive Catherine because she is so young and grows up. Possibly we may have to forgive whatshername for being ignorant, but only if she actually tries to do something about it.

  27. RE #4

    Isn’t it interesting how the people who think romance promotes an unrealistic picture of life and relationships don’t make the same statement about other genres? How closely do mysteries portray real life when the crime is always solved by the end of the book? Do people who read too much fantasy with talking/thinking animals develop unrealistic expectations of their pets? And should we blame science fiction novels for the Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicides?

    People who can’t separate fiction from real life have problems that go deeper than their choice of reading.

  28. I love romance novels and only read romances. I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about that.

    But as to # 3 Anyone can write a romance I think some people really believe this and are actually getting their “work” printed. So many of the new writers that I give a try are really poor I now hesitate to actually pay for books written by persons that I have never read before. Only getting books by new authors from the library.

    To my favorite authors please never stop writing :-)

  29. I remember a time when felt I should hid the books I read for fear someone would laugh at me. All the reasons you have given are so real. I have been reading romance for 50 years and have gone from Harlequin books to paranormal, historical and futuristic romances; and still I love all romances.

  30. Thank you for your post, Sandy. This is just my opinion, but I suspect that much of the negative criticism of romance fiction stems from not only a lack of knowledge about the genre, but also a failure to grasp the actual psychological dynamics at work in the reading of this genre.

    Too often, critics (in the broad sense of the word) assume romance fiction at its core is about sex, and that’s what its readers read it for. If this were true, they wouldn’t bother to slog through all those pages in which the author develops plot and character, describes surroundings, and details non-erotic events and situations. In fact, these readers wouldn’t be reading at all. They’d be visiting X-rated websites.

    No, something else must be at work here. I suspect what’s going on has much to do with fantasies of power, redemption, and healing. A reader can identify with a female protagonist who changes for the better her little world—in particular, the male protagonist in it.

    He enters the story a lost soul—bitter, angry, cynical, incapable of loving or doing anything for anyone but himself. The two focal characters can’t stand each other, and struggle to control each other.

    But though he holds all the obvious advantages, she always wins. And he ends up thanking her for it. She heals his hurts, saves him from himself, redeems him, turns him into the ideal man. The heroine accomplishes a great victory, something nobody else can; and the reader vicariously shares in her triumph.

    Sex is a factor in this formula, but it works only when applied in the right context, as part of a fantasy of empowerment and redemption. Otherwise, it would not be pleasurable for the reader. And it would have no more meaning than porn sex.

    Personally, I think this is only one type of romance fiction, albeit the most popular and profitable one. I prefer romances that revolve around a different dynamic, one in which empowerment and redemption play little if any part. But even I would defend empowerment/redemption romances against the charge that they’re just about sex!

  31. ROFLO! I have been married 30 years…I am a feminist…I have a great sex life with my husband…I admire the talent it takes to write a great romance novel, I could never do it…I have had more life slap me in the face and believe me I know about expectations and reality…if my bodice rips its because I bought the thing to small! :)

  32. I have only been reading romance novels for a few years. They make me laugh and make me cry. They entertain me in the middle of the night.

    I believe in the redemptive power of love.

    As for the sex, one is never too old to learn something new. Ha

    My retirement is enriched by the many vicarious adventures.

    No one has mentioned the amazing generosity of the romance readers.
    After my first question on AAR I received enough recommendations to last me many months…..and I read almost all of the books.
    Love the books and love the readers who share them.

    Gypsy

  33. Romance: novels written by women for women. Anybody who knows anything about feminism knows this is a great definition of what many branches of feminism believe is a condition for women’s emancipation.

    • Asia M: Romance: novels written by women for women. Anybody who knows anything about feminism knows this is a great definition of what many branches of feminism believe is a condition for women’s emancipation.

      We’ve long been told that feminism allows women to make choices. I’ve long suspected that my choices are only OK if the “feminist establishment” agrees with them. It would appear that my reading romance novels is one of those “bad” choices.

  34. This reminds me of the people who told me my children would become ax murderers because we allowed them to play Unreal and other first-person shooter games. Or the ones who said they’d become obsessed with the occult because we let them play Dungeons and Dragons.

    Romance novels can’t be blamed for someone’s obsessive behavior. Certain personalities are at risk for obsessive behavior no matter what. If someone is using romance novels to avoid facing the real world, chances are they’d use something else if there weren’t any romance novels. (Like TV watching.)

    As for “anyone can write a romance novel.” Gads no. While there are many artfully crafted romances, the genre has it’s share (like all genres do) of mediocre to poor ones as well.

    Lastly, why would anyone think sexually repressed women would want to read about sex (since that’s what the critics think is the sole purpose of romance novels)? That doesn’t even make logical sense. If one is sexually repressed, one avoids sex in all its forms. It seems to me readers of romance are more apt to be sexually open and confident. We read about love, sex, and romance. We discuss it, analyze it, and even laugh about it. I can honestly say my husband loves my romance habit. He gets the benefit of me thinking about relationships, love and sex, while knowing I’m sensible enough not to wish he was a 6’4″ SEAL. I know the difference between a satisfying fiction, and a satisfying reality. ;-)

  35. Well. like any other genre, anyone CAN write a romance novel. It’s just that few can write a GOOD romance novel.

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  40. I’m getting to this article a little late, but I just have to comment. To preface, PLEASE read my comment in its entirety before you start beating me over the head with dead fish. I am a woman, I have been reading romance novels since I was about 15 or so. I have several old favorites that I reread at least once a year. I enjoy romance novels. That being said, let me wade into the discussion at hand.

    10. porn for women.

    I have to agree with this point. I have said it myself many times and here is why. The definition of pornography is anything that is designed to elicit a sexual response. By this definition, romance novels count. However, I do not think it is the same as regular porn. Mainly men and women are different. When I’m reading a romance, I’m not mentally having sex with the hero. Thoughts of that hero aren’t on my mind when I have sex with my husband. I’m not bringing it to bed with me. Reading it doesn’t take away sexual energy from our bed either. Porn will suck a guys sexual focus away from his woman so that he might loose interest in her. Not so with romance novels. My husband loves when I read them because I jump him when he comes in the door.

    4. unrealistic expectations.

    This too has a kernel of truth in it. But Romance is my no means the biggest culprit of this, magazines, movies and TV are! If a girl is properly educated by her mother or female caretaker, this shouldn’t be an issue. And there are grown women who get caught up in this too and it’s not the Romance novels fault that she can’t understand the difference. But that same woman is going to be just as duped by other media as well.

    1. Romance kills.

    The bit about the chemicals is true, however it fails to take into account the effect those chemicals have on the male and female brain. The chemicals released are bonding ones and the female brain has those flowing all the time! We bond over all kinds of stuff, we feel gooey toward our men regularly. For men, these chemicals are released after sex, or orgasm, so they are far less used to it, and if they are only feeling that after pron, that can be a problem. Back to #10, reading Romance novels makes me bond more closely to my husband, not to the book! I’m thinking about how awesome he is, not how great the hero is. The same thing happens to me when I see people hold hands of have an emotional moment in movies or on TV. I’m not feeling gooey toward the guy on the screen, I’m remembering similar moments in my life with my husband and reaching for his hand.

    It boils down to men looking at Romance novels through male eyes as if women were like men. We aren’t.

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