Welcome to Read-A-Romance Month 2016!
If you’re a new visitor to RARM, I hope you’ll come back every day in August to read all the wonderful pro-romance posts this year. Check out the full calendar here. You can also find links to the last three years’ posts from the boxes in the sidebar, and if you’d like, you can follow RARM on Facebook. Enjoy August!
Hi – Bobbi here – Today is RARM Spotlight Advocates Day. I’ve been honored to meet many people who support and celebrate romance, but these friends are special in that they’ve taken an academic look at the genre and feel it’s worth advocating. (And then there’s Kathryn Falk, the founder of RT, who, as we know, created a whole industry on celebrating these books!) Yay romance. Thanks advocates. xo
Advocates in the Academy: Professors #LoveRomance, too
Before we identified as people who #loveromance, we were just two feminist sociology professors looking for a community of women to study. That was in 2009, when Jen’s exposure to romance fiction (or what we thought was romance) was limited to Twilight, and Joanna’s to Pride and Prejudice and the Sweet Valley High stories she read as a teenager in the 1980s. After a neighbor gave Jen a copy of a Suzanne Brockmann Troubleshooters book, which she promptly shared with Joanna, our destiny was sealed. We became scholars, fans and advocates of the genre and the people who produce it.
In the years since we began our participant observation research with the romance community, we have advocated for the genre in numerous ways. Like the romance authors, agents and editors we interviewed, we, too, find that when we tell people we are involved with the romance writing community, their responses range from surprised amusement to playful mocking to outright derision. Sometimes these reactions are followed by negative comments (or eye rolls) about the perceived content of romance books, but more often than not, we get hushed confessions of (secretly) loving romance, coupled with genuine interest in the sociological topics we see in the romance community.
In either case, we use these exchanges to share what we have come to know about romance. We talk about industry trends and the irony (okay, sexism) of the bestselling genre being disparaged because it is, as insiders well know, largely written by women, for women, about women. We talk about how the study of the romance community brings together our interests in gender, emotions, identity, and deviance (in the sociological sense of the word—shedding light on why romance is often disparaged, who has the power to assign negative labels to the genre, and what that means for the people associated with it).
And regardless of the audience, we talk about the brilliant and skilled authors our research has afforded us the opportunity to meet, and how humbling it was for us, two people who make a living off of the words we say aloud and put on paper, to learn that we had absolutely no talent for writing fiction. From Jen’s ill-fated “Peanut Butter Bandit” romantic suspense story to Joanna’s utterly boring tale of a social studies teacher with brown hair who loved libraries (dissimilar to Joanna herself only in that her heroine was tall), our “learning by doing” research methodology has offered the most compelling way for us to advocate for the genre. Writing fiction is hard, and we are living proof that people can love to read and love to write, but that doesn’t mean they have any talent for storytelling.
We sing the praises of romance at every opportunity. Need a speaker for a group of prospective students on campus? Sure, we’ll do it—and we’ll talk about taking romance seriously. Want us to come to your book group or interview us for a podcast, radio show or newspaper article? You bet—and we’ll talk about the importance of romance in people’s lives. Wondering if we’ll serve on a feminist panel about Fifty Shades of Grey? Absolutely—and we’ll talk about the empowering aspects of romance novels.
In many of these venues, we surprise a significant portion of the audience by advocating for the romance genre (while the romance readers in the room sit back with their knowing grins and enthusiastic nods). In our combined 34 years as professional sociologists, we have never talked so much about our research. Part of this reflects the fact that we have struck a nerve: people are really interested in this research. But we’ve studied other things that are interesting, too, from search and rescue volunteers and homeschooling families (Jen) to teenage mothers, divorced women, and incarcerated mothers (Jo), and we haven’t done nearly the amount of talking as we do now. It is our continual efforts to put our research on other people’s radars, and to change their minds about what romance is, that has been one of the most unexpectedly rewarding parts of this project.
Another unanticipated joy of being scholars who #loveromance has been connecting to the community of romance readers. Whether they are students who approach us after class to discuss their favorite authors or colleagues at faculty meetings who overhear us talking about our scholarly work and share their own history with the genre, we delight in knowing that the serious and increasing academic attention scholars are paying to the romance genre helps readers declare with pride that they #loveromance, too.
We’ve come a long way since 2009. It’s an honor to be included among the ranks of people who advocate for romance.
Jen Lois & Joanna Gregson recommends:
We couldn’t single out only a handful of romance authors we love—plus we really should leave that to the experts who actually know what they’re talking about. Instead, we thought we’d recommend a few authors and titles from our world—social scientists who study gender and relationships.
Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand is a classic text for thinking about the different ways women and men speak (and why we do so).
Michael Kimmel’s Guyland explores how young adult men experience masculinity,
while Peggy Orenstein’s Girls & Sex (and really, anything she writes) examines young women’s attitudes towards and experiences with sex.
Although not a sociologist, Laurie Kahn’s documentary “Love Between the Covers” is like the film version of our study; she captured on film the themes we explore in our sociological writing.
Questions for the Scholars:
Tell us about a moment in your life when you felt romance surrounding you.
Jo: Not sure what this says about me, but I am the most aware of romance when I am in the company of romance authors. To that end, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more immersed in romance than I did when we attended our first Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando in 2010. Everywhere we turned, people were celebrating romance, which was a completely new experience for me.
Jen: When my totally alpha, ex-military husband equally shares the housework and childcare, which is every day.
Tell us about someone special in your life (other than your partner) with whom you share romance.
Jo: Obviously my answer to this question is Jen! There’s no one I share romance with more frequently or more passionately.
Jen: Ditto, of course it’s Jo! But also my friend Marcia, who introduced me to romance by passing me novels from her impressive collection until she got me hooked!
Do you have a place in the world or a sound that you equate with romance?
Jo: Lake Tahoe, where my husband Cory and I got married. The person who married us (someone we found on the internet) went completely off script (the script we’d carefully written), our witness/photographer was the elderly friend of our even older officiant, and we both got terribly sunburned. It was perfect.
Jen: Starbucks! When Jo and I meet for our romance research collaborations, it’s often in a Starbucks. No matter which branch I walk into now, the unique aroma triggers a strong romance-research sense memory.
Who is your (or a) favorite romantic couple?
Jo: Elizabeth and Darcy. No further description necessary!
Jen: Nobody puts Baby in the corner.
Tell us about your dream date.
Jo: If I’m being completely honest, it’d be getting take-out Indian food, putting on pajamas, and binge-watching a BBC crime show.
Jen: Being stuck in a foreign country with bad guys chasing us because we’re trying to save the world. Obviously.
I’ve arranged with Laurie Kahn, the director of the wonderful romance documentary Love Between the Covers, to give away a DVD copy of the film. (US only, apologies to international friends.)
Thanks so much Laurie!
And if you haven’t yet seen the film yet, it recently launched on most major streaming platforms and is available to own on DVD. See more here:
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or on the *Facebook post you’ll find here (or both – Share the Love!) ;o) by 11:59 pm PST August 22, 2016. Good luck!
(*You don’t have to like the FB page, but we do recommend it. It’s easier to contact you if you win. Also consider joining the Read-A-Romance Book Club page, where we discuss romance of all kinds and will have drawings and events throughout the year.)
Joanna Gregson, PhD, is a Professor of Sociology at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. She teaches and conducts research in the areas of gender, family, identity, and deviance. Joanna has published on teenage motherhood (The Culture of Teenage Mothers, SUNY Press, 2009), incarcerated women, and women’s divorce experiences.
Jen Lois, PhD, is a Professor of Sociology at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. Her previous research has investigated gender, emotions, and identity among homeschooling mothers (Home Is Where the School Is, NYU Press, 2012) and search-and-rescue volunteers (Heroic Efforts, NYU Press, 2003).
Joanna and Jen have been studying the romance community since 2010. They are two-time recipients of RWA’s Academic Research Grant (2011 and 2016).
Follow their research:
Buy Jen Lois & Joanna Gregson’s suggested books:
*Please note that the Amazon button, most cover images and many text links connect to a Read-A-Romance Month affiliate portal. Thanks so much for your help & support!