I Was Ravished by a Man Wearing a Cape and No Shirt – Elaina G. Smith
Adulthood rendered me quizzical about why, precisely, romance novels had to be seen as ridiculous.
Romance novels are those books everyone in the literary world knows about but doesn’t talk about it. This book has romance but it isn’t a romance novel. It’s a romance novel but it’s literary. It has some sex but not THAT much sex. Books like Fifty Shades of Grey become poster children for absurd romances, overshadowing the thousands of others within the genre.11
Interestingly/not interestingly, some of the most successful authors writing romance novels are men, i.e. Nicholas Sparks. For a reason that I just can’t think of,12 men writing romance novels are praised as literary and genre-bending and given heaps of money for their work. Yet women who have been writing within the genre for decades are shunted off to the side.
I read romance novels because they exist in worlds where women are respected, wanted, and cherished, which is something sadly un-mainstream. They are novels of sexual and bodily agency. Women move about their worlds and come out, in the end, triumphant every single time.13 In one of my favorite romance novels, Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do, Pauline Simms is a barmaid, a lower class woman who the rich, handsome duke, Griffin York, takes home as his would-be fiancée to thumb his nose at his matchmaking mother. Pauline, though, realizes Griffin’s actions from the get-go, understanding him as a human with flaws, while he realizes a kindred spirit despite Pauline’s social status. When their relationship blossoms before more revelations almost splinter it, Pauline steps aside, realizing she deserves happiness, and it is Griffin who must transform, change, emotionally develop, before their love can be true. Pauline succeeds and receives what she wanted from the beginning: a family, romance, and love.
In a world where women’s bodily agency is stripped and discarded—1 in 4 women will face sexual assault in her lifetime, and that’s most likely a low estimate of the actual number—romance novels offer another vantage point: one where women are not only in control of their bodies and sexuality but are able to fulfill their fantasies as such. The men (and other women) provide the female protagonists of these novels with respect, desire, love, and countless orgasms.14
11 Fifty Shades of Grey is not a romance novel: it’s a novel of domestic abuse under the guise of a romance. Also it’s written so poorly it makes Baby Jesus cry.
12 Just kidding, it’s still misogyny.
13 Granted, they are not perfect. They often put forward a traditional type of heteronormativity with marriage and babies by the end. But there are many that push those boundaries while also remaining within the strictures of the genre.
14 Lots and lots of orgasms.
Elaina G. Smith received her MFA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and has been published in [PANK] and The Monarch Review. She was also the Managing Editor of the online literary magazine Revolution House. She currently lives on the Kansas side of Kansas City with her collection of cats.