Fifty shades of white: the long fight against racism in romance novels

Lois Beckett in The Guardian:

Romance readers compound the sin of liking happy, sexy stories with the sin of not caring much about the opinions of serious people, which is to say, men. They are openly scornful of the outsiders who occasionally parachute in to report on them. In late 2017, Robert Gottlieb – the former editor of the New Yorker and unsurpassable embodiment of the concept “august literary man” – wrote a jocular roundup of that season’s best romances in the New York Times Book Review. He opined that romance was a “healthy genre” and that its effect was “harmless, I would imagine. Why shouldn’t women dream?” The furious public response from romance readers – “patriarchal ass” was among the more charitable comments – prompted a defensive editor’s note from the NYT, which later announced it was hiring a dedicated romance columnist, who happened to be both a woman and a long-time fan of the genre.

Coverage of the romance industry often dwells on the contrast between the nubile young heroines of the novels and the women who actually write the books: ordinary women with ordinary bodies, dressed for their own comfort. Reporting on the first annual conference of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) – the major trade association for romance authors – in 1981, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the 500 authors who attended were “not the stuff of which romance heroines are made – at mostly 40 and 50, they were less coquette and more mother-of-the-bride”. That observation – combining creeping horror at the idea that middle-aged women might be interested in sex, with indifference to the fact that male authors are rarely judged for failing to resemble James Bond – is typical.

Part of the intense scorn romance authors face is the result of their rare victory. They have built an industry that caters almost completely to women, in which writers can succeed on the basis of their skill, not their age or perceived attractiveness.

More here.