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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, February 25, 2024

Innocent Pleasures: Taylor Swift songs, rom-coms and really anything by and/or for women

After last column’s celebration of the middle grade novel — in my humble opinion, the pinnacle of children’s (and possibly all) literature and the perfect blend of escapism and relatability — this week, I’d like to turn to an appreciation of something decidedly less… innocent.

 

Rest assured, my original mission remains unchanged. The heart of this column is still introducing and reframing enterprises that can bring us genuine happiness, combating any feelings of shame associated with our enjoyment of purported ‘guilty pleasures,’ and advancing the notion that all pleasures — construed as valid under the loose rights-based framework that I proposed in my first issue — are innocent. That includes what, socially, is considered impure and unchaste. We here at Innocent Pleasures validate the sexual experiences, expressions, orientations or lack thereof of all, but as a self-identified virgin (whatever that means because virginity isa patriarchal, heteronormative and nonsensical concept), I’m not qualified to speak to the stigma surrounding the kink community. As a former holder of the Barnes & Noble employee discount and current owner of four different library cards, however, I am highly qualified to consult on today’s topic: romance novels.

 

Like Taylor Swift songs, rom-coms and really anything by and/or for women, the romance genre has been derided and belittled while being overwhelmingly successful. It is a $1 billion-a-year industry, according to Romance Writers of America, and romance was the second most popular fiction genreover a 12-month period that ended in March 2021. There is a unique scrutiny to which things popularly enjoyed by women are subjected, and this turns hypocritical in the case of romance novels. Women are told they’re incomplete without a partner (read: a man) yet are ridiculed for consuming stories that are guaranteed to end in a romantic pairing.


Despite its steamy scenes, spicy situations and trademark covers of nearly naked couples, the main argument against the genre is its fluffiness and triviality. I challenge this on the grounds that my reading of regency romance novels has afforded me the immensely relevant knowledge of what a dowry and a dance card are. But I acknowledge that these books which, by Romance Writers of America’s definition, feature “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” and often rely on tropes such as fake-dating and enemies-to-lovers to shape their arc are bound to be predictable. This isn’t a bad thing, though. That sense of comfort and familiarity is essential to their appeal. Particularly during turbulent times, the predictability of their storylines is a big draw for many looking to escape. Not all romance novels are created equal, as some perpetuate harmful ideologies, and the genre as a whole has a ways to go in terms of the inclusivity and diversity of stories told and sold, but romance is a subset of fiction that, uncommonly so, is concerned with privileging the pleasure and well-being of its typically female protagonists. It is empowering to see women in agential roles, to see women put first in a narrative, and if the greatest complaint is that their inevitable ‘happily ever afters’ are unrealistic and foolish, in this columnist’s eyes, that’s the best endorsement for picking one up.