Romance novels are a $1 billion industry with a huge following that defies glib generalization. But that doesn’t stop conventional wisdom from treating the market as the domain of middle-aged spinsters with too many cats and preference for light reading.
Emily Davis, associate professor of English as well as women and gender studies at the University of Delaware, says the contemporary romance genre is a complicated universe. The author of Rethinking the Romance Genre: Global Intimacies in Contemporary Literary and Visual Culture, Davis points to the success of the Netflix series Bridgerton as an intersting touchpoint.
“Bridgerton showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, talked about how, when she first thought about doing a series based on a set of romance novels, she was fairly contemptuous of the genre as formulaic and cliche. That has been the rap for romance — that it is formulaic, frivolous, disconnected from current events,” said Davis.
She also points out, “This is an industry geared toward women and, in our society, we attribute less importance to things that are targeted to women. Think about the funny revelation in movie studios when the Hunger Games series made so much money with a female lead. Women had been telling executives for years that there was a market for women-driven adventure plots, but sexism in the culture made it difficult even for businesses to see what opportunities there are.”