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The Eroticization of Equality and Social Justice

Note from Hillary: this is a reprint of an article I published elsewhere a few years back that I wanted to archive on this blog. The topic remains timely; thanks for reading!

loveasthepracticeoffreedom1 

 

To begin with, check out the romantic presidential couple at the bottom of the right-hand group of pictures (near the date) in the above image. Isn't it wonderful that we elected someone who, among his many other virtues, is so loving? That's not a trivial thing, as psychologists Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks write in their article, The Obama Relationship: a Major Benefit Nobody's Talking About.Okay, back to that first link. It's to the Love as the Practice of Freedom conference, the first national meeting devoted to romance fiction and American culture. I attended it a couple of weeks ago at Princeton University, and had a blast being surrounded by academics, authors, editors, and readers who were not only passionate about their emerging field and its importance in the larger culture, but passionate about passion and its role in our lives and in society.

Progressives should pay serious, and respectful, attention to romance fiction, for two reasons:

First, as I hope to convince you -- or seduce you into believing! -- below, romance itself is a fundamentally progressive activity. If you take romance seriously, and don't denigrate it just because patriarchy says you should (more on that, later, too), then you've got to take romance fiction seriously, since it's a major expression is of romance -- not to mention, romance's usual wonderful destinations, love and sex -- in our culture. More than a quarter of all books sold in the U.S. are romance fiction, and more than 64 million Americans read at least one romance novel each year (source: Romance Writers of America, RWA). Romance fiction is an enormous part of American culture, and an important transmitter of values.According to RWA, romance fiction is built around a central love story that culminates in an "emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending." The "bodice ripper" cliche is not just discredited (implying, as it does, lack of consent), but woefully out of date: the genre has burgeoned way beyond historical romances and now includes romantic suspense, erotica, crime, Christian, African American, teen, paranormal (all those sexy vampires won't just categorize themselves, people!), science fiction, and lesbian / gay / bisexual / transgender (LGBT) subgenres, among many others.And it's not just the books that are changing: RWA research says that in 2008 22% of romance readers were men, versus just 7% in 2002.

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