The very secret history of Harlequin, the most famous–and most misunderstood–name in romance. Interesting to note that, while a man founded the company, its tastes were formulated by his wife and female business partner. Women know what women want,1 which has always been both the romance genre’s strong suit (it’s almost entirely driven by women) and the reason everyone shits all over it (“ew girl cooties!”).
On the flip side, there’s an interesting quote from a mid-20th century editor in the article that reads, “You have to know who your reader is, be identified with him, know how to attract and hold him in bondage to the almost unbreakable habit (and habit is everything) of buying your product”. Not unreasonable, yeah? What’s interesting is that this is a male editor of the magazine (wait for it) Women’s Own. It’s possible there’s a bit of extra context around the quote that the article doesn’t include–it’s quoting from something that’s quoting from the dude–but the juxtaposition of the pronouns in the quote with the title of the magazine was… interesting.
Anyway, the article is long, but keep reading, because the ending talks more about the romance genre’s links to feminism and female desire, which I think are always topics worth thinking about.
Also one of the things worth thinking about is why there aren’t really “romance books for (straight) men”. I mean, why not? What would you even call a contemporary fiction novel told from the POV of a grieving cowboy widower who falls slowly in love with a high-powered city-living CEO? Or a novel told from the POV of a badass vampire hunter who falls for the very thing he’s supposed to be hunting? Gee. Let’s think about that one for a moment. I can’t possibly imagine what we’d call those books if not “romance”. Hmm.
… Yeah. Funny, some things, innit?
- Obligatory disclaimer: not all women know what all women want, obviously. But women know what they personally like, and thus tend to have a good idea on what other women like them will like. [↩]