I wasn’t going to dignify this article or this one with a comment, but since a local Afrikaans newspaper has also picked up and headlined the story, I’ve decided to weigh in on the debate with my two cents.

These aren’t the first articles of their kind, and since the press has a long history of writing blatantly incorrect, sensationalist stories about romance novels (such as this laughable cheap pot shot) it’s unlikely to be the last.

The debate will continue to rage for years to come, I’m sure, on whether watching violent films makes viewers turn violent, or reading romance turns people … well, romantic. (I notice crime novels don’t get blamed for sending people into lives of crime, but that’s another story!)

But it’s not this issue that has me up on my soap box today, but rather the underlying issue as I see it: that in our contemporary, supposedly enlightened, society, women who expect their real life heroes to aspire to some sort of ideal are ‘irrational’ or ‘dangerously unbalanced’.

It has become the norm in society for people not to take responsibility for their own actions. So we blame romance novels for the breakdown of marriages instead of admitting we might have failed. We blame unrealistic expectations for the fact that women value themselves highly enough to want to be treated well. I somehow doubt that it’s the romance readers themselves saying their marriages broke apart because of what they read. More likely the disgruntled husband who doesn’t want to admit that his wife left him because he’s a drunken layabout.

I strongly believe that women should have high expectations of their husbands, just as men should have high expectations of their wives.

Marriage should be the place where we bring out the best in ourselves, not the worst. Our marriage partner should be the one person in the world we treat better than everyone else, not worse. And romance novels can teach us this. They set the benchmark of what we should aspire to, not a physical ideal (after all, those cover models often don’t truly represent the characters inside the books!) but rather the values of a love so deep and enduring that it is worth striving for.

I will continue to proudly read, and write, romantic fiction, because I believe in a world in which women are taught to value themselves enough that they do not settle for less than they deserve. And for a world in which women who do so are not ‘unrealistic’ but rather the vast majority. I can guarantee it’ll be a much happier world, and one filled with love and romance. Can you think of anything better?

Incidentally, if you’re wondering what a romance writer really does look like, check out this brilliant response by Julie Cohen.

And thanks to Lorraine Minx for pointing me to this interesting rebuttal.