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Read Romance, Fight Patriarchy – a Reflection

by Sara Livoti, Youth Services Librarian, Stratford Library Association (Stratford, CT), PLA 2024 Scholarship Recipient on April 24, 2024

I attended the Read Romance, Fight Patriarchy program on Friday, April 5th, 2024 at the Columbus Convention Center as part of the PLA 2024 conference. This session was led by Teacher Librarian, Lori Lieberman of Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon.

This session highlighted the different facets of the romance genre as a whole, the importance of reading romance, and how Lieberman successfully implemented a romance-specific book club for teens at her high school (and yes, they read adult romance too!).

To begin, Lieberman explained the difference between a love story and a romance. Romances have a central love story and a happy/satisfying ending. Love stories also feature a relationship, but they do not always have a happy ending (i.e., Me Before You by Jojo Moyes).

Romance books generally feature stories by and about women. These women are strong in their own specific ways, they find themselves worthy of healthy relationships, the men treat the women in these stories well, and all the characters are better for it. Romance has grown to include stories about men, LGBTQA+ characters, and other diverse cultures. Readers can immerse themselves in sex-positive stories, where women are successful and happy.

Romance stories usually utilize popular tropes to tell the story such as workplace romances, arranged marriages, slow burns, grumpy sunshine characters, age gaps, friends to lovers, and (my personal favorite) enemies to lovers. Additionally, romance has been integrated into a multitude of sub genres including historical, fantasy, young adult, contemporary, mystery/suspense, paranormal, western, and erotica. Following this, we learned the reasons behind why people read romance: to feel! Romance allows readers to feel love, comfort, and a range of other emotions. Romance readers (myself included) love love; we enjoy books that make us connect with the characters and empathize with them.

Romance is the most popular, and currently best-selling genre, while simultaneously also being one of the most ridiculed. Romance readers are labeled as vapid, dumb, and overly emotional while romance writers are not considered the true literary powerhouses that they are. Unfortunately, patriarchal views have contributed to this negative outlook. Men’s stories and lives are considered readable by all, while women’s stories are considered vacuous. Sex in romance is one of the biggest targets that elicits these responses; being compared to pornographic material. Sex scenes are not gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous however, they serve a purpose: they connect the characters, they show their growth in their relationship, and it’s fun to read about! All this being said, all hope is not lost as the current landscape is changing. Romance is growing, feminism and diversity are being embraced, and librarians and teachers are fighting back and confronting this problem through exposure.

Using these viewpoints, Lieberman created the romance book club for teens at Lincoln High School in Oregon. She wanted to provide these teens (who already were reading romance not-so-secretly) an outlet to discuss the genre, make connections, and broaden their literary knowledge. One of the more controversial aspects of this club is that the teens are allowed to choose adult romances to read alongside their young adult picks. Lieberman explained that teenagers can have (and already are having) sex and thus, they should be able to read about healthy, sexual relationships. In fact, it is important for teens to read about adult things like work, love, and maintaining a healthy balance of the two. Romances highlight happy endings, which they then can visualize for themselves and their own lives-all of which is empowering.

Finally, Lieberman shared some exciting past and future news for her book club: they have connected with authors such as prolific romance writer Julia Quinn, and they will be interviewed by NPR! All in all, a fabulous and enlightening session at PLA.

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