Sing it, Aretha !
Everyone has their own definition of "respect" just as everyone has their own gauge of and desire for it. Much of what I hear connected to the word "respect" these days makes me want to smack young people in the back of the head and say if you want respect, earn it!
And the initial step to earning respect is to respect yourself first.
Let's face it, romance writers are often seen as the Rodney Dangerfields of the book world. (For those of you too young to know who Rodney is, Google him. Or watch an old but funny movie - Caddyshack.)
We've made a great deal of progress, but in many quarters of the literary world we are still seen as our readers' dirty little secret. E readers are touted as a way to indulge in an addiction to romance without flaunting THOSE covers for all the world to see. You can be a closet "bodice ripper" fan and tell your friends you are reading the latest John Grisham novel or perhaps The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (it just won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.) They all look the same on an E reader.
The romance genre DOMINATES the book market and has done so for a number of years. Romance is projected to take in 17% to 19% of the market in 2014. The next genre in profitability, Mystery, will take half as much. And guess what? Some of those mystery authors happen to write romance as well. So there!!
Do these facts get us the respect we deserve? Not so much. We're still seen as the chick who shows up at the debutante ball in lingerie and thigh highs. (Hey, I'll bet we go home with more than just a wrinkled dress and a droopy corsage!) Our books are seen as candy for lonely, frustrated women who are either unhappy in their marriage or can't get a date in the first place. SNORT! If only they knew! Today's romance novels are read by smart young adults, ambitious teens, happily married women, lawyers who eat Wall Street types for lunch before dancing the night away with handsome young studs, and every type of woman with which God has decided to grace the Earth.
Yes, they are also read by lonely women who have experienced heartache or perhaps have never even had a date. And some of those women are doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, EMT's and soldiers defending our country.
ROMANCE READERS ARE NOT ONE SIZE FITS ALL !
Romance readers don't fit a mold, because baby, we break it at every turn. Those literary critics and uber-feminists, and comedians who make fun of romance novels, who put them down as formulaic, unrealistic junk food for readers have no idea who reads our work. What they have is a complete lack of respect for the three things romance readers have in abundance.
FAITH, HOPE and SELF RESPECT !
In spite of everything they see in this world on a daily basis, romance readers have a deep abiding faith that love can change things, can make the world a better place, can make us better people. And they have hope - if their lives are good they have hope they will always be so, no matter what life throws at them. If their lives aren't good, they have hope that if they persevere things will get to good, that good is always possible.
And they have self respect. A famous talk show host was once asked why she never featured a romance novel as her book club selection. Her response? "They give women unrealistic expectations when it comes to romance." EXCUSE ME? Who made her the arbitrator of what I have a right to expect from romance? You remember at the beginning of this post I talked about the first step in earning respect? Well here it is, sisters.
A hero who loves me enough to let me be myself. - I deserve that.
A hero who loves only me and will until his last breath. - I deserve that.
A hero who will take care of me and my children, but isn't afraid to share that responsibility with me. - I deserve that.
To be swept off my feet by a man who cannot live without me. - I deserve that.
Great sex with a man who sees me as an equal and for whom sex is a spiritual as well as physical experience. - I deserve that.
Happily. Ever. After. with a man who will ride out life's troubles with me because I make the ride worthwhile. - I deserve that.
Unrealistic expectations? No, ma'am. I expect nothing less than I deserve. Every woman should because her self respect demands it. Because she has too much damned self respect to settle for anything less. Romance novels don't teach women to believe in fantasy. They teach women to set the bar for a better reality, for the reality they deserve. They enable women to spot a hero when they see one. Not because he's incredibly handsome or ripped like a cover model. These critics must think we're really stupid. Heroes, like romance readers, come in all shapes and sizes. Romance novels enable us to measure a man by the conduct of his character, by the little things he does and says, by the way he treats us every single day.
Romance readers and writers are smart, capable women who know the difference between reality and fantasy. We choose to read and write romance novels because they entertain us, empower us, teach us, make us laugh and cry and believe. We are the keepers of hope, faith and self respect. We believe in the power of love. We believe in the power of forgiveness.
"Of course she'll forgive you. The future of the human race depends completely on the ability of a woman's heart to forgive. Always has. Always will."
In case you're wondering this quote is from a romance novel. I know. I wrote it. I am a romance writer. I write the stuff dreams are made of and I make no apologies for it. I write about faith, hope, love, triumph and tragedy, sex and romance, adventure and danger, elegance and grace, power and self respect and the belief we all deserve the very best life has to offer.
Have you ever experienced as a reader or writer of romance novels disrespect, derision or even subtle teasing by those who don't understand or even those who completely disregard romance novels as "real" books? What has been your response? Do you prefer to read on an E reader because people can't see THOSE covers? Are you a proud reader or writer of romance? Lets talk!