Not my normal genre, but…
While scrolling through Amazon looking for my next TBR, I noticed something peculiar. In the reviews for Caught, a historical romance by Christina J Michaels, I saw several comments from readers who felt the need to add disclaimers to their comments. For example:
“I can't say that romance is my usual genre, but Caught was recommended to me by a friend and I gave it a try—I was surprised with how much I enjoyed it.”
“I'm not typically a romance reader, but I'm really enjoying the development of this book...”
“While the genre isn't one that can normally hold my attention long enough to read completely…”
There are a few other comments like these, too. All were overwhelmingly positive reviews, but all started with this same kind of “this isn’t my normal genre” disclaimer. And the thing that really stood out to me? It appeared that all of these disclaimers were from male reviewers.
Now, before the men out there get all defensive, I’m not saying these guys shouldn’t have left a review, or that they did anything wrong by saying that romance isn’t their usual genre. It’s perfectly fine that they don’t normally read romance. I don’t expect readers to universally love all genres. Hey, I don’t particularly like poetry or speculative fiction. I’m a firm believer in the “Imma read what I want and you should too” policy. But my main question is this: why did these gentleman feel the need to add the disclaimer? Is that disclaimer just an innocent comment, or is there more to it than that? Or am I, as a romance reader, simply creating drama where there is none because the genre has been so stigmatized in the past?
While any and all of that could be true, there are a couple of reasons why I feel like the disclaimer is a defense mechanism rather than a simple admission of not usually liking the genre:
The disclaimer is the first thing out of these guys’ mouths, which very much feels like a defensive shield thrown up to ward off insults and blows that might come from critics of the genre—or simply from other men—as a result of reading a romance novel. It makes me think these guys are afraid of censure for their choice of reading material. Welcome to the romance stigma, guys. (*she says with an evil cackle*)
Numbers don’t lie
One dude issuing the “not my normal genre” disclaimer right up front in a review can be called a fluke, or just an innocent comment that nothing should be read into. But several out of a relatively small number of total reviews, all men, all saying practically the same thing? That’s not a coincidence. It’s also not meaningless.
The 3rd review listed above goes beyond a simple “not my normal genre” and edges into “I think romance novels are beneath me” territory. Now, don’t get me wrong, the review after this comment is overwhelmingly positive, and it was generous of this man to take the time to leave it for the author. But by saying that romances can’t normally hold his attention, the reviewer is kind of subtly slamming the entire genre, and the really sad part is that he probably hasn’t even read that much of it. That kind of genre slamming, right up front in a review, also seems rather defensive.
I lived in olden times, folks. I used to have to go to bookstores and libraries to pick up my reading material. I didn’t have the luxury of downloading books within seconds. Amazon didn’t exist. (Yes, I’m that old) And as an avid reader, I was OFTEN at bookstores and libraries. Every time I saw men in the romance section or at the counter buying romance books, they all said the same thing: These aren’t for me; they’re for my wife/daughter/mother/girlfriend/sick neighbor. And they used a tone that suggested they were embarrassed by even the thought of someone assuming they were reading romance.
There’s also the fact that I read and REALLY enjoyed a post-apocalypse survival/action series that I’m betting had a larger male following than female, and though it’s “not my normal genre,” I never once felt the need to point that out to anyone. (I also once bought hunting and fishing magazines for my dad at the local bookstore when he was sick. I didn’t tell the men I saw in that section or the man at the checkout counter that they were for my dad and not for me. That thought never occurred to me, even though the number of men who buy those types of magazines probably outnumber the women.)
So, what gives, guys? What’s with the disclaimers?
If left to my own devices, I can think of several possible (note I said POSSIBLE. I’m just theorizing here) reasons why more men don’t indulge in the occasional romance novel:
So, what does it all mean?
Personally, I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of reading. Whether you’re reading porn, autobiographies, how-to manuals, romance, zombie fiction, or any of the other millions of options out there, everyone should be proud to be a reader. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a book. There’s also nothing inherently “unmanly” about reading. Books don’t have a gender, so there’s no one genre that is “for women” or “for men” only. Do I think more men should try reading romance? Sure. They might actually like it, just like our Design Dude recently did. And men who do enjoy romance shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to add disclaimers to their reviews just because they’re reading a genre that happens to have more female than male fans. I guess at the end of the day, our opinion on the matter really does all boil down to this:
Imma read what I want, and you should too. Let’s all mind our own business and not shame each other for our reading choices, m’kay?
What about y’all? Anything you’d like to add? Let’s discuss!