Title: Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained
Author: Maya Rodale
Genre: NF, R
Dates Read: January 30 – April 3, 2018
Synopsis: Long before clinch covers and bodice rippers, romance novels have had a bad reputation as the lowbrow lit of desperate housewives and hopeless spinsters. But in fact, romance novels—the escape and entertainment of choice for millions of women—might prove to be the most revolutionary writing ever produced.
Dangerous Books for Girls examines the origins of the genre’s bad reputation—from the “damned mob of scribbling women” in the nineteenth century to the sexy mass-market paperbacks of the twentieth century—and shows how these books have inspired and empowered generations of women to dream big, refuse to settle, and believe they’re worth it.
For every woman who has ever hidden the cover of a romance—and for every woman who has been curious about those “Fabio books”—Dangerous Books For Girls shows why there’s no room for guilt when reading for pleasure.
Review: I avoided reading romance novels for a long time because of the negative way many people talk about it. It wasn’t until I started working in a library and saw how many women were reading them, including librarians I respected, that I decided to give one a shot. And it was a great decision. My first romance novel was Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn, and reading that has led to many more. I have an English degree. I have a book blog. I know how snobby people can be about books. But I don’t have to be. And you don’t have to be. It doesn’t make you cool; it makes you a narrow-minded fool. Maya Rodale did an excellent job with this book, and I wish more people were made to read romance in academic settings so they could realize its merit.
Favorite Quotes (spoiler: it’s a lot):
- Romances tackle divisive issues like class, love, women’s sexuality and pleasure, rape, virginity, money, feminism, masculinity, and equality—and ultimately how they’re all tangled up with each other. These books promote a woman’s right to make choices about her own life (and body). They take longstanding notions of masculinity and turn them around. They promote a different image of what it means to be a happy, desirable woman—one that doesn’t rely on the right shade of lipstick, but internal qualities instead. These books celebrate women who get out of the house and do all the things that, traditionally, young ladies and good girls don’t do. (12)
- Everyone deserves affordable and uplifting entertainment. (43)
- Excluding women’s fiction suggests that women’s interests aren’t worthy of discussion and that women’s voices don’t deserve to be heard. (45)
- Dismissing the books as unrealistic isn’t necessarily a slight on how well or how accurately the author wrote her story, but about the “crazy” ideas these novels explored and celebrated. Crazy ideas like freedom for women, mutual respect between men and women, true love, or a woman’s worth. (86)
- No one is debating the realism of that cartoon hero with the eight-pack abs, or the violet-eyed heroine. What’s at stake are realistic expectations for relationships. Love. Sex. (89)
- In these books, a woman could explore sexual desire without the guilt and shame of asking for it, whatever “it” might be. The heroine could still have the sex she secretly, privately, wanted to have, but without the stigma of having requesting or initiating it (slut shaming is still a problem now; imagine what it must have been like over 40 years ago). The hero’s job, then, was to make her confront the desire she felt. (95)
- This is one reason romance novels are so revolutionary: They break the association between a woman’s value and her level of sexual experience. They take back control and put it in her hands. And these books provide a satisfying alternative to the idea that a woman is either a virgin or a whore. She can just be her own woman. (108)
- The heroine not only makes him experience all the feelings, but through the constancy of her love, respect, and attraction for him, she also shows that a man can have said feelings without compromising his masculinity or giving up his maleness. (134)
- When a woman reads a romance novel, she is choosing happiness. She is choosing her own pleasure. She is choosing to take care of herself. She is declaring that her pleasure is equal to anyone else’s. (135)
- The more I read from both sides, the more I realized that we’re more alike than we let on. Whether you call it chivalry or manners, we all want someone to hold the door open for us. We don’t want someone else to determine our self-worth—whether that someone else is a man, The Man, feminists, or whomever/whatever. No one wants to be a victim. We all want equality. (136)
- Many are judged not on the quality of the artistry, but on the fact that they are designed to appeal to women. (143)
- The sheer volume of representations of women by women is what really sets the romance industry apart from other media representations. (167)
- The implicit message is that if you want to be cherished by another person, you have to value yourself as a person worthy of love, respect, and commitment first. (170)
- While often criticized for glorifying marriage (and thus trapping women in a patriarchal system), the romance novel isn’t about wedding bells at all. The happy-ever-after (HEA) is ultimately about the triumph of hope, acceptance, and justice. The happy ending is also what makes romance novels dangerous books for girls. (174)
- The happy ending of a romance novel is not about marriage at all—it’s about hope for a better future. (177)
- Romance novels depict female sexuality as a loving, pleasurable, and above all acceptable part of being a happy woman. But when we call them smutty, dirty, or trashy books, we are negating that message. (180)
- Romance novels show a variety of heroines, be they plain, pretty, plump, or skinny. They might be black, white, rich, poor, gay, or straight. But when we say only stupid women read these books, we are telling young girls that they are foolish for believing that they can be beautiful and lovable just the way they are. (181)
- If there is one lesson that I have learned from every romance novel I’ve ever read and every conversation I had for this book, it is this: To hell with what anyone else tells you and follow your heart. (183)