When I was in junior high and high school, I couldn’t have named a single boy who would read a romance novel. Publicly. It was just the way things were. And until last week, I never considered that things might be different now. I should have, but I didn’t.
I still don't know a lot of men who read romances aside from those who are gay and read male/male romances. That's another issue entirely. In part, I believe this to be because of the utter vacuum of emptiness within the gay genre. If you want to read gay fiction, in most cases, you’re stuck with romance or erotica. I'm not implying a problem with these genres. I’m just pointing out the gap.
There is a lot of fiction out there for all men to read regardless of orientation. The basic action adventure, the basic fantasy or sci-fi novel, mystery/suspense, etc. Usually, the romance is left to women. Or so it’s been…
On Monday, I picked my sons up from school and had a “rethinking” moment. One of my 10th grader’s friends, was sitting on a rock in front of school, reading as he waited for his ride. What was he reading? A Harlequin. By choice. And liking it. I think that was pretty darn cool. His girlfriend was wandering around nearby and he was ignoring her in favor of the book, and from my son’s report, he’d been reading the book during every free moment he had at school—including during an assembly. My gosh! It was me in high school, lol!
This shouldn’t have struck me as such an oddity. There’s been a definite culture shift in the last years. And lots of boys have devoured books with strong romantic elements—and they haven’t died! Point of fact: Twilight (or the whole Twilight series). There’s no denying the romance thread in these books. Boys have been consuming these books in droves. Could it be that through these books, consciously or not, that they’ve learned romance isn’t such an awful thing? Or Hush Hush? Romance plays a big part. Even the Harry Potter books have a bit of it. Much of the general YA fiction of our day has romance as part of it, and I think it's helped to herald a cultural shift.
Or has our culture heralded a fiction shift—as in who reads what? Since World War II there’s been a steady disintegration of the gender dividing line. What’s manly and what’s womanly has blurred considerably. I can’t imagine my grandfather reading a romance novel. I also can’t really imagine him doing the dishes or laundry unless it was a drastic situation. I can’t imagine my mother repairing a car (even putting in oil challenges her). I can’t imagine Twilight being as popular with boys when I was in high school as it is now. I mean, c’mon, it was the men of my generation who coined the term “chick flick”. That’s a movie for women but I’ll sit through it if I have to. Just know that I know what it is and I’m suffering. It should in no way cast doubt on my masculinity.
You know the attitude of which I speak.
I’m aware these are generalizations and they don’t fit every man of these generations. But generalizations are born because they fit the main share of people in that category. How have we changed? Well…men today are just as likely to do the dishes and laundry as women. "Men’s" jobs and "women’s" jobs at home and at the workplace barely exist. Either gender can be found doing any job. Women of today can certainly do minor car repairs—or even be mechanics. And boys read romance novels. Openly. And they don't get burnt at the stake for it.
And that’s a very cool thing.
I'd love to know your opinion on this.