If you are a fan of (or writer of) romance fiction, you've probably heard the latest round of bru-ha-ha about the genre supposedly being bad for women. It came in the form of a news story titled Romance novels can be as addictive as pornography on a news site affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This claim comes from Dr. Julianna Slattery, of Focus on the Family. She is a psychologist and author of “Finding the Hero in your Husband," and her views on the romance fiction industry were shared in an article written by Kimberly Sayers-Giles, a Latter-day Saints “life coach," for KSL.com.
Slattery's theory includes the following points:
There are similarities between what happens to a man when he views pornography and what happens to a woman when she reads a romance novel.
Men are very visual, and viewing pornography produces a euphoric drug in the body. This drug is the reason pornography becomes addictive. When the natural high wears off, a man will crash and feel depressed (as happens with any drug) and crave another hit.
Women are more stimulated by romance than sex, so when they read romantic stories (and they don’t have to be explicit to work) they can experience the same addictive chemical release as men do.
For many women, these romance novels may be more than a necessity; they may be an addiction -- and Slattery said she is seeing more and more women who are clinically addicted to romantic books.
Women may find their standard for intimacy begins to change over time because may not be able to get as satisfied with their partners as they can reading a book.
Tamar Bihari has written a fabulous blog post in response to Slattery's claims over at Women's Voices for Change: Redefining Life After 40.
Tamar Bihari's arguments include the following points:
Because romance novels at their core are all about relationships and largely aim for a happy ending, they necessarily reflect their authors’ takes on what it takes to build a healthy relationship. How two people learn to communicate, how to treat each other with respect and appreciation, how they can help each other heal from old wounds. They don’t generally begin from a healthy place, but the characters grow and learn through the story.
In so doing, they can illuminate that process for their readers, much like women might do in person, sharing stories while sitting around an office break room, or hanging out at the local playground with their toddlers. Shared experience, giving the reader a few new tools to bring to her own relationship. What’s wrong with that? (Unless you don’t believe that a woman should challenge her spouse to bring more to the relationship emotionally? Hmm…)
Relationships, emotional connections, these are foundational to our lives. To dismiss (or condemn) an entire genre because it focuses on the subject smacks of Victorianism, dismissing the “women’s sphere.” Sexist? I think so, yes.
Incidentally, romance, like any other genre (including literary!), has its share of clunkers and unfortunate genre cliches, but also a surprising richness of high quality fiction. Beautifully written or delightfully fun depictions of a place, a time, a relationship.
Bihari graduated from Harvard University with cum laude honors in History & Literature. A native New Yorker, she lived in Los Angeles for several years before returning east, and edited low-budget features and high-profile TV shows, including "Northern Exposure" and "LA Law," before turning to writing full time. Bihari recently wrote a review for WVFC of HBO's Temple Grandin; she's also given us her story of sharing her brilliant and talented son, Damian, with her Harvard reunion. She also written about her family for Autism Speaks and has published articles and personal essays in various other venues. As a screenwriter, Bihari was a quarter-finalist in the prestigious Nicholl and Austin screenwriting competitions and had three screenplays optioned by producers. She, Damian, and her husband Dan Valverde now live with their two cats in New York City.