I met Joanna Gregson (Sociology Professor at Pacific Lutheran University) and Jen Lois (Sociology Professor at Western Washington University) at the 2010 RWA Conference in Orlando. At the time, they were in the beginning stages of their research on romance sociology and the stigmas romance writers face and the feminine culture they have created among themselves. In the last couple of years, they have attended writers’ conferences, writing groups events, and readers’ events as well as interviewing authors, agents, editors, and reviewers in search of the reasons behind the social behaviors of the romance community and its critics. And I love the work they are doing. Here are some examples of their articles.
This article was about, well, being nice (catchy title). One of the reasons they focused some of their efforts on romance writers “being nice” is because, at the first RWA conference they attended, they were “struck by how different it felt from other professional associations.” As sociologists, they pointed to research on single-sex social groupings that shows that those groups tend to magnify the stereotypical characteristics of the gender. Girls are taught to be nice so when a predominantly female group gets together, we are predominantly nice. In terms of RWA, they further defined that as romance writers being professional, inclusive, and supportive. Yeah us! Published on the Wonk-o-Mance blog.
This article answers the question: Why would you waste your talent on writing . . . that? Joanna and Jen look at why romance novels are devalued and trivialized. Some of it they blame on the fact that the work women do is not valued as much as the work men do in general and it simply carries over into romance. They took a stab at defining what a “real” book is. I like this line: “It’s obviously not sales or popularity, because those figures would immediately propel romance to the top of the “real books” charts.” Amen, sisters. They suggest that the measure of a “real” book ought to be whether it resonates with readers. Readers of romance can identify with the focus of romance on love, relationships and families because that is part of life. Published on USA Today.
In studying the romance genre, Joanna and Jen have examined the stigma of it and found themselves angry about the unfounded stigmatization of the romance genre, and caught in some backlash for their association with it. How ridiculous is that – in studying people who produce romance, their work is trivialized – guilt by association. A parent of a prospective student called their research smutty. Really?
I did enjoy some of the surprises that they copped to when the first started studying romance:
- Surprised to find authors were professional and really, really smart.
- Surprised by the seriousness with which authors approach their craft and their profession.
- Surprised by how well written and entertaining romance fiction can be.
Published on The Popular Romance Project website.
- “An interview with Drs. Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois about the Gendered Community of Romance” on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog.
- “Shameless” in the Western Washington University magazine.
At the risk of repeating myself. Yeah us! We are really, really smart, professional, dedicated, serious, and NICE.