Proudly binging on romance

06 Mar

Once more I’ve stumbled across something at work with application to writing. This term, I’m teaching a class entitled ‘gender in administration’.

Yes, I know . . . obscure, dry . . . boring. Such titles are de rigueur in academic circles and I dare not allow my two writing worlds to collide. But darned if I didn’t have one of those ‘worlds colliding’ moments anyway.

‘Gender in administration’ translates to considering how men and women interact and react in organizations. This is good stuff – power, influence, bigotry, revenge – organizations have conflict up the kazoo because of differences, real or imagined, between men and women. The usual stereotypes – women as compassionate and nurturing and men as forceful and decisive – tend to play out in organizations. People acting contrary to type freak out the traditionalists. The problem is . . . most of us, without realizing it, hold onto a great many of those traditional stereotypes. The question for me today . . . must I blame my reading material?

Organizational efforts to manage the stereotypes and reduce the potential for lawsuits neuter gender (in a figurative sense, of course) to take out any discussion of differences and sexuality. The premise is for us to be ‘genderless’. That isn’t possible and pretending may often do more harm than good. But we’re trying to survive in organizations and keep our personal lives separate from the work place. Again . . . pretending has a price.

‘Literature’ might pretend to be more, but we all know there’s not much better than a passionate love story filled with overt or subtle tension between a gal and her guy. So, logically, stories about men and women and grand passion should be on my reading list. After all, what’s the point of politics without a little scandalous sex?

Thus, I toddle along (thank you Florence) ~ reading romances, working on my manuscript (filled as you might guess with sex, politics and religion), puttering with research (nonfiction pays the bills, baby) and supervising brilliant young minds as they answer academia’s burning questions.

Despite how carefully I step, I toddle once more into collision.

A student shared an article by Stephanie Coontz, published in the New York Times. This is a good piece and the link to the full article is linked to the highlighted phrase in the preceding sentence. However, one paragraph stuck out for me

“For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation; it’s no wonder that this emotional hangover still lingers. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to reject the idea that the ideal man is taller, richer, more knowledgeable, more renowned or more powerful.”

Let me reiterate – this is a very cool article about shifting male preferences in seeking intelligence in their partner and it’s very useful in considering female leadership in organizations. But binging? Intimidation as corollary to infatuation? Emotional hangover?

Are the female characters I love (both those created by other authors and my own) simply overwhelmed by some guy’s macho c***? Are the heroes no more than one-dimensional bags of testosterone? Is binging on Harlequins illegal? (I hope not as I spent a small fortune on them after my oldest went to college. I figured it was better than gallons of ice cream as a distraction from the gaping hole in my heart at her absence.)

I am a feminist. I believe in women and their capacity to lead and challenge others. I recognize that inequity and bias still exists in peoples’ perceptions and throughout the institutions that found our society. But I don’t want to accept that the stories I love are the catalyst for these problems. Am I fooling myself?


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15 responses to “Proudly binging on romance

  1. ramblingsfromtheleft

    March 6, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    Liz, how much time do we have to “toddle” along with this subject. I am a throw back to the days of revolution, those crazy women who believed that equality was possible and we would have it at all costs. That being said. I am also a lover of books … of the book. I have become something of a pain in the bum at my RWA-WF on line group, railing against “categories” desnignated purely for female writers. I intend to do copious research and drive them mad with the subject. But it will be to no avail. Categories, like stereotypes are what we use to shelve books and define the masses.

    Without a long discertation … no the stories you love are not the catylist for those problems. The majority of writers, mostly women, who tell those stories are not either. It is the dream of HEA that women have never given up. While we talk the talk, we secretly love the tingle of new love, lost and found love, heck … we love … love. Being in love with love drives the romance genre to out sell every other category by 20 to 1. During the darkest times of our economy and in publishing since 2008 the ONLY publisher who made massive profits, who out sold and maintained (even grew) their bottom line was HQ. But you are not the problem … none of us are. We are cockeyed optimists who want to believe in that illusive dream, and who escape the realities of gender discrimination, corporate greed, the nightly news and often, our flat relationships, by running to the next book. Heck … is it escape or entertainment? Most women don’t care because for them it is just pure fun to pretend.

    • Liz Fredericks

      March 6, 2012 at 10:01 AM

      O. M. G. Ok, I know I’m echoing my teenager, but really, Florence. O. M. G. – Beautifully stated!! Gosh I wish you lived in Idaho so I could take you out for a special beverage in celebration. We could toast the romances that have gotten us through.

  2. Meredith Conner

    March 6, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    I agree totally with Florence. (Well, mostly totally. I love the term Chick Lit. Don’t care if it has gone by and will never come back and that some people seem highly allergic to the term. I love it and if a book is described as Chick Lit I know that I am going to read a funny and possibly empowering story). I think Florence hit it on the head with we love . . . love. What is there not to love? At the end of the day, it is our loved ones – family, lovers, husbands that mean the most. Those relationships that fulfill us and reaffirm what we are about. That is not an emotional hangover and I have never confused intimidation with my infatuation for my husband. I want to read a story that has a guaranteed HEA, that makes my heart melt and reminds me of that first blush giddiness. I like to read stories like that. I am a strong independent woman and I love my husband. I am raising two beautiful daughters to be strong and independent and chase their dreams. And I love romance.

    • Liz Fredericks

      March 6, 2012 at 10:03 AM

      Yep, Mer, that’s what it is. I just don’t get the intimidation as infatuation . . . not sure I’ve ever been intimidated by a man. Infatuated? Oh yeah. Now, women, on the other hand, scare the beejesus out of me.

  3. Peggy Staggs

    March 6, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    Very interesting. The problem is most people don’t want to read about a short, plumber in droopy pants. That said I’m not all that interested in a tall, successful one dimensional rich businessman. No matter how good looking he is. I always try to make my guys multi-dimensional. If a guy doesn’t have some baggage and a lot of character I’m not interested. At the same time I don’t want them so damaged they can’t get out of bed in the morning.
    As for equality…everyone has something to bring to the party, some of them just haven’t figured it out yet. AND never underestimate the power of a gallon of ice cream.

  4. Liz Fredericks

    March 6, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    Well . . . Peggy, let me just take issue with one point. Don’t knock short plumbers – I recently dated a very nice one. However, let me direct you to the actual article. The Coontz article explained that men are now looking for more intelligent women (as opposed to wish lists generated through opinion polls for the last several decades). She also argued that women who ‘marry down’ are generally happier. I think she was operationalizing the concept as marrying someone who hasn’t achieved the same level of education. All I know is, education doesn’t mean diddly without chemistry.

  5. Mary Vine

    March 6, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    What a great line of conversation here. Got me thinking. Thanks, Liz.

  6. Liz Fredericks

    March 6, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    You’re most welcome, Mary.

  7. Patsy

    March 7, 2012 at 6:57 AM

    Wonderful post! I’m sure even those very forceful women have their soft side – and that’s when they sneak away and read romances! 🙂

  8. Janis McCurry

    March 7, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    Liz, sorry I’m late to the party. I believe in HEA, I don’t have it. I might never have it. But not having something doesn’t mean it’s not something to want or have value. Screw ’em. I like to read about it.

  9. Liz Fredericks

    March 7, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    amen sister

  10. Lynn Mapp

    March 7, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    LIz, you? Fooling yourself? I don’t think so. You have those feet very firmly planted on a solid surface. We want a HEA. We know what life is really like, but it’s okay to enjoy the fairy tale.

  11. Liz Fredericks

    March 8, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    Ok, I’m such a dork. It took me until now to figure out what HEA meant – should have just asked.

  12. Marsha R. West

    March 8, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Woefully, late to the party. Been sickly. But mercifully, this will make me brief. LOL Great post, Liz. Good comments, and it’s always a good time for ice cream.


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