SIORR: Episode 6: Are RomComs Anti Feminist?

Aanu Jide-Ojo
5 min readJan 4, 2021

Hello! Welcome back to this week’s episode of “Sorry I Only Read RomComs”, how has your week been? Any highpoints? Lowpoints? Random stuff that made you more curious about more random stuff? Let me know! I am freshly coming out from my leave and I want to run back in, thankfully I love my job (I feel like I have to say that so I don’t sound lazy, but I need a proper holiday in a new country, where I plan tons of activities and do exactly nothing, you get me?). So, for the last couple of weeks, I feel like I have been taking a stab at romcoms, for someone that unapologetically stans these books, I’ve been quite on the critical side when it comes to examining how romcoms push some unhealthy and to be honest very anti feminist positions. However, while it has its problematic sides, can we make the conclusion that romcoms aren’t feminist in nature? Is it supposed to be? Let’s dive in!

While doing a some research for this episode, I stumbled across a thesis called “READING THE ROMANCE: THROUGH THE EYES OF A MILLENNIAL FEMINIST” by Jessica English, here’s what she found out about romcoms:

“Romance literature is the top-selling sector of the literature market, almost doubling sales of crime and mystery books and religious texts, the next two top selling genres. These books are consumed primarily by young, educated, women, yet there is still a stigma surrounding the consumption and enjoyment of them (Nielsen, 2015).

Not only consumed primarily by women, they are also written by women, for women and about women, as well as published primarily by women. The publishing industry for these books is also predominantly female — an astounding 74% …. “Women write and read romance heroes to examine, subvert, discuss, revel in, and reject patriarchal constructions of masculinity” (Pearse, 2015)

So my first impression, reading that was, yes if it centers women, it could be feminist, could being the operative word here, if you’ve listened to the episodes on consent, toxicity and assertiveness, you’d see that while it centeres women, it could still push some patriarchal narratives. So i don’t know how it rejects the constructions stated here. For example, “tall, dark and handsome” is a patriarchal trope, “knight in shining armor” is a patriarchal trope and of course “damsel in distress” as well. And these still show up, even in books written in 2020, 2019, you get me?

Let’s continue. She referenced a book by Maya Rodayale, “Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained”, here is an excerpt from the book:

By creating stories with an intense focus on a heroine — her choices, her pleasure, her independence, and her rewards — romance novels promoted radical ideas of what a woman could do with her life and inspired women to try to make that dream a reality. Far more than “silly novels by silly novelists”, these books are perhaps some of the most subversive literature ever written, distributed and consumed (Rodale, 2015, p 19)

“Another interpretation of romance novels with alpha heroes is that they are the patriarchy versus feminism writ small. The hero [or alpha male] is the embodiment of the patriarchy and the heroine is the embodiment of feminism and these two must figure out how to bring out the best in each other and find common ground in order to live happily ever after” (Rodale, 2015, p 123). This specific juxtaposition is not entirely unlike our real world realities. Women are so often viewed as lesser, with the patriarchy dominating over them constantly, that this power struggle, and eventually happy ending, is appealing to our desires to feel like we have equal weight in the world. It is a literary battle of the sexes — one that, in the case of romance fiction, women win”

I find this archetype description of the alpha hero being patriarchy and feminism being the heroine interesting. I haven’t fully fleshed my thoughts on it here, so tell me what you think. For one, the hero will usually save the day so using this sample, will patriarchy save the day? I don’t think so, it’s a very kumbaya narrative that I don’t even want, because the goal is to dismantle patriarchy and not dine with it to live happily ever after. Two, note the “alpha male” thing? Another patriarchal trope, we need to have a conversation on how romcoms exude toxic masculinity, especially in heterosexual stories, which unfortunately are the default now.

So I found this next bit interesting, she said…

Rodale’s most important finding is that she found that 89% of romance readers felt people look down on them for their reading material, and 52% felt shame for reading romance novels. This deeply ingrained feeling of shame that we just know we should feel communicates something important. Since romance novels are so inherently female — by women, for women, about women — this shame shows that there is not just a distaste toward the books themselves, but a distaste toward women in general.

Hmmmm, this part I agree, to be honest, when I thought about starting a podcast, it was a mental battle to be able to accept that I mostly read romcoms, so if I’m going to do something around books, I either have to specify that or people why only romcoms, and yes there was a bit of shame and guilt around that, hence the name starting with “SORRY”; I always mentally justify that by saying I consume other genres through other mediums but the question is, why did I feel the need to?

Kensington’s Editor Esi Sogah, said, “I think the romance industry is feminist in terms of the ability it gives mainly women to run businesses, earn incomes, express themselves, explore all these things women were told not to think about too deeply”

I like this. I think that romcoms generally reflect the collective mind of the world we are in, which is very patriarchal, hence the problematic elements. But does it go out of its way to disenfranchise women, I don’t think so. I think as long as conversations like this happen, we will slowly see a shift in how characters we love so much are written. It does the work of showing the mind of women, tells us how she feels and invites us into empathy with her and in that point we are centering the women, that’s a win for me.

So, what do you think, are romcoms anti feminist, have you read a book and gone like, damn the patriarchy jumped out here? What are your thoughts? Share them in the voice note here or send me a dm on instagram and twitter @helloaanu, i/e hello a a n u. Talk to you next week, bye!

Listen to the episode here: