We’ve seen a handful of rehashes over the last few days of the age-old question of whether romance is porn, and if you object to the label, why you are objecting to it. There was an article in Slate recently. Smart Bitch Sarah posted a letter today in which a boyfriend asks a girlfriend to stop reading romances because he thinks they are porn.
Every so often, someone pipes up with this: “Why are you getting all annoyed when people say romance is porn? There’s nothing inherently bad about pornography. So who cares?”
Assuming that the pornography in question is made in a consensual, nonexploitative manner, I have nothing against it. And yet I do bristle when people say that romance is porn. Part of the reason is a type-classification argument. For instance, I love dogs, but if someone insisted that I was one, I would be offended. Even though I have nothing against dogs. Dogs are great; I just happen not to be one.
But mostly the romance=pornography thing bothers me because it implies that only a small level of romance is healthy in the intellectual diet.
If someone told me he spent 20 hours a week reading porn, I would think: “Whoa. Don’t you… like… get chafed? Down there?” I have nothing against porn. But porn is like chocolate: a wonderful snack; you can argue about the health benefits for an occasional piece; but everyone agrees that it should not be a staple of your diet, no matter how much you like it.
Romance, in my view, is not the chocolate of the intellectual buffet. I see it as more like rice. It’s filling. It’s chewy. Some cultures eat it with every meal. Others eat it sparingly. Some books are like risotto and others are like gallo pinto. There’s fried rice. There’s chicken-and-rice soup. There’s bi bim bap and nasi goreng and sushi… and can you tell it is almost lunch time for me? I am making myself hungry. (And yes, the line can be blurry: there are some books that are chocolate rice pudding–but that doesn’t mean that everything with rice in it is dessert.)
Plus, there’s brown rice and white rice and arborio rice and jasmine rice and wild rice… lotsa kinds of rice out there. And we haven’t even gotten to grains like quinoa, or things that act a lot like rice, but aren’t at all, like couscous.
Some people don’t like rice, because they don’t like the way their body reacts to the carbs. And that is okay. But if someone told me they ate rice at every meal, or that rice formed a regular part of their diet, I wouldn’t think, “yeah, maybe you should branch out.” It’s quite possible for a healthy diet to include a good amount of rice.
Most romance readers out there browse a varied diet. They read historical fiction (not just historical romance). Science fiction. Fantasy. Mystery. Nonfiction. The news. Drama. Memoir. Short stories. Poetry. They demand more than boy meets girl of their romances, too–they don’t just want a scoop of white rice on a plate. Romance novels touch on family relations, wars, spies, spousal abuse, alien abductions, mystery, suspense, gay rights, race relations, murder… you name it, it’s in a romance novel.
That’s why I firmly believe that a healthy reading diet can contain a large proportion of romance novels. I don’t think the same is true of pornography.