The Hunger Games is not a romance novel. The Great Gatsby is. Which one are you more embarrassed to read?
It’s not that you won’t admit to liking romance novels; it’s the fact that you feel as though it has to be admitted, rather than announced, shared, or declared. And it’s not that romance is not a valid literary genre, it’s just that it seems a little self-indulgent of the authors, making their male love interests so idealistic. You’re not one of those girls who wants flowers, respect, and someone to call “my love,” are you? Not even if he’s French? Spanish? Cherie? Mi amor? You’re not into something as superficial as a romance novel!
The Great Gatsby is a romance novel. In “chicklit” jargon, it is slow burn rags-to-riches caught cheating billionaire star-crossed good girl x bad boy mutual simping 47K words and you have to read it—the male love interest is so hot. If The Great Gatsby had been written by a woman, no English teacher would ever dream of reading it in the classroom as an incredible commentary on American society at the time. And how do I know? Take Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”––it has the exact same tags as The Great Gatsby, and it has double the word count: 157K words. It discusses classism, sexism, societal norms, internalized misogyny, and politics. It shows a lot about how society operated at the time, especially because it was written from the perspective of a member of an oppressed group: women. But it doesn’t seem to be as academic, as worthy of study, as a novel written by a man about some lonely idiot who throws parties for a woman who’s already dumped him.
It’s heartbreaking because Mr. Darcy deserves so much more love than Jay Gatsby.
The treatment we give to romance as a genre is reflective of the veiled misogyny that pervades academia to this day. Romance is a female-dominated niche that no one takes seriously; is that a coincidence? When romance itself is considered a woman’s affair, when the idea that a man should become more expressly romantic is ridiculed and dismissed, literature built upon the theme of romantic love becomes discredited to the whole world’s detriment. The Hunger Games is a societal and political commentary about the future of a world that continues to oppress the lower socioeconomic classes and use children as entertainment.. But no one wants to be caught dead reading the series because society sees it as romance. Katniss always seemed like too much of a pick-me, and love triangles are just so overdone.
Shockingly, the Hunger Games was written by a woman.
Colleen Hoover, though, you might say. Colleen Hoover is a perfect example of the idiocy present throughout romance novels. But Hoover’s work is simply a sad byproduct of anti-intellectualism, where “booktokers” and “bookstagrammers” recommend any romance books they can find in an effort to reinstate the genre. This fails because any good book, objectively, must be written by an author who has some understanding of literary merit—the plot is not as important as the writing, the imagery, the verbiage, the morals—and when people try to protest academic standards for great literature, they often turn in the wrong direction and promote anti-intellectualism rather than feminism and inclusivity. A female author is not the sole requirement for a good book. At the same time, most women’s works need to be reexamined and given more credit than they are allowed today.
All this is to say that if the month of February didn’t feel so romantic for you, consider giving the romance genre a try! You could learn a lot about human history and anti-elitism and economic systems from past centuries if you picked up the right love story. “Pride and Prejudice” is a good place to start, or “Wuthering Heights” or “Red, White, and Royal Blue” or really any novel by Lisa Kleypas.
In the worst-case scenario, you’ll have much higher standards for relationships when you finish reading your romance book. And that’s not a terrible way to live.