Feminism and Romance Novels

Two of my most favorite subjects all at once!

Today at The Atlantic I have a piece published called “Beyond Bodice-Rippers: How Romance Novels Came to Embrace Feminism“:

Ruthie Knox, author of contemporary romances including Ride With Me and Along Came Trouble, says that if a romance novel is to be labeled as “feminist,” the sex in the book “should be mutually pleasurable or that its failure to be mutually pleasurable should be presented as an issue in the novel, rather than the natural state of things.” Knox’s female characters are vocal about their wants and their dislikes with their partners. Through her characters, Knox shows her readers how to communicate about sex, something women are rarely taught to do in pop culture. Grant echoes that romance novels have the ability to not only turn their readers on but, in fact, show their readers what exactly turns them on: “romance (being written by women as it is) is a way for women to explore what we’d like sex to look like, and to define sexual success or validation for ourselves.”

I interviewed seven romance authors and two critics for the piece. The interviews and the writing were the most fun I’ve had professionally in a long time.

But that’s not all!

The wonderful Jaclyn Friedman interviewed me for her podcast, Fucking While Feminist, about this topic. You can listen to the podcast here (there are also follow-up links that are really useful). The podcast is REALLY NOT SAFE FOR WORK (or probably my parents’ ears so maybe y’all shouldn’t listen to it – though I feel like you probably will and then use this to make me blush for the rest of my life).

I also wrote a companion piece to The Atlantic post that lists recommendations of feminist romance novels and authors from the people I interviewed (it’s over on my blog where I review romance novels and write about the genre). It’s an amazing list and a great way to dive into romance novels if you have the inkling but are not sure where to start.

I am hopeful that this is the start of a long conversation. I have so many more things about the genre I’d like to think and write about. I believe that when roughly 40% of US women read at least one romance a year, there is always a reason to be talking about these novels.


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