This TED Talk Delivers the Awesome Reminder That Romance Novels are Feminist
Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, an Associate Professor of English, Writing, and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (Go Green Bay), delivered an amazing TEDtalk about the importance of romance novels and how they can absolutely be feminist despite how they are lambasted in popular culture.
Van Slooten’s entire talk was awesome, but I think the thing that I really got attached to was the way she felt shamed for liking romance and shows about female relationships—because the idea of focusing on women’s love lives is often seen as “anti-feminist.” In fact, often time just actively seeking out romance and love is seen is anti-feminist because “what about everything else?” And the reality is that love, romance, and companionship do not just mean one thing, and there is power in reading books where women are being loved.
I think in media we are used to love being shown as one thing: the typical cis-het white relationships between two unrealistic humans (or usually one really-really hot woman and a meh-dude that we are into but like feel guilty about), where the goals are the same mawage.
But love is more than just the big damn kiss. It’s about companionship. It is about laughing at the same jokes and references. It is about feeling open enough to share wants and needs. It is about knowing you are going to disagree but respect each other anyway. To me, part of what makes good romance and romantic dramas work so well (when they are good) is they are about people opening themselves up to the possibility that someone will hold your hands when you need it. That they will remember your favorite food and get it for you. That someone is thinking about how you are doing.
As I’ve gotten into romance novels for the past few years, it’s been especially amazing because it’s bound up with an explosion of amazing WOC in the genre. There have always been amazing romance authors, and romance authors of color (all of the respect on Beverly Jenkins’ name), but now there are so many other mainstream options being published and pushed into the mainstream. I can see people not only looking for the Alyssa Cole, but having her be easy to to find.
A lot of people are able to take love for granted, but it remains a radical thing in this world to see Black women and other women of color being loved in mainstream romance. We’re still lacking in LGBTQ romances at the forefront without a coming out story or ensemble. And we still don’t have enough romance with people who are differently-abled, asexual, polyamorous, neurotypical, and many other perspectives that would be gorgeous to see. I hope this will only continue to grow.
It’s easy to call romance and love stories cliche when you are always on the cover. Sometimes knowing that you are worthy of companionship is a radical thing, especially when so many places tell you otherwise.
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