Michille: Romance Sociology (or me as Gregson and Lois Fangirl)

Jen-Lois_Joanna-GregsonI 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.

“Being Nice” and the Feminine Culture of Romance Authors

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.

Romance, gender, and the measure of a ‘real book’

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.

Stigma and surprise.

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.


At the risk of repeating myself. Yeah us! We are really, really smart, professional, dedicated, serious, and NICE.

7 thoughts on “Michille: Romance Sociology (or me as Gregson and Lois Fangirl)

  1. I don’t know. On the one hand, I think a culture of consensus can be very nice. It makes things run more smoothly. But on the other hand, it can also be very stifling and narrowing. If when you say, “I write romance,” you feel you have to defend it to outsiders, that’s when “nice” gets all gray and fuzzy.

    It’s “nice” if people agree that romance is a worthwhile pursuit, but if they are snarky or condescending, is that important? The numbers are with the romance fans — more people like it, more people buy it, and more people read it than any other genre.

    My number one suspicion of people who “don’t like” romance is that they don’t read it. I’d offer them some suggestions.

    The number two suspicion is that they don’t like happy endings and order. Not much I can do about that. Masochism in literature is really not my cup of tea.

    The number three suspicion is that they are posers, pretending not to like it. Until they can be honest with themselves and others, there’s not much I can do as a romance fan, either.

    These are not “nice” opinions. But then again, someone who says, “how can you write that romance junk” is not being nice either. By all means, let us be honest with each other (-:.

    Or you can be nice, smile pityingly at them and say, “Oh, that’s really too bad that you don’t read romance. Maybe you’ll grow into it someday.”

    (Damn. I just don’t know how to do nice, do I?)

    • Joanna and Jen clarified their definition of “nice” to say that the RWA community of writers was professional, inclusive, and supportive. I like that definition of nice. And if I use that definition, then yes, you do know how to do nice.

      • (-: Aw. Made my day.

        We’ve got a nice bunch of people here, don’t we? And I mean that in your sense, definitely not in the “not making waves” sense. I think our challenge as nice people is to be able to make waves while being professional, inclusive and supportive — and I think RWA proves that it can be done!

  2. Hello Michille! Thanks so much for featuring our research in your blog entry! I still remember meeting you at RWA–our very first one–sitting in those giant, comfy chairs in the lobby. Then we sat at the RITAs together, too! Joanna and I had such a great experience at that first national conference, and we returned three more times to collect data (twice) and to present our findings (2013). We were so sad to miss it this year, but will be back in 2015. We hope to see you then, and thanks again for giving our research a shout-out!

    • You are very welcome, Jen. I look forward to hearing more of your findings. I am going to RWA in NY in 2015 and I think most of the Ladies are also going. I hope to see you there.

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