Watching the Olympics always both amazes and frustrates me. What those athletes—both male and female—are able to do with their bodies is awesome. It takes years of hard work, concentration, and commitment to their sport to make it to the Olympics. Those who get there deserve the attention they get every four years.
But all athletes are not created equal. Consider, for example, the difference between the media coverage of male and female athletes. Granted, this year there seemed to be more written about the disparity both in the amount and the tone of coverage than there has been in the past. Partly we can thank Ryan Lochte for doing his part in making the contrast of bad boy behavior stand out against the grace of Simone Biles and her teammates in their interviews. Partly social media took up the drumbeat of how uneven the coverage was.
However, in spite of that most of the coverage was the same—boys are strong, alpha males who beat their competitors into the dust. Girls are pretty things who look like they belong at the mall and really should be wearing more make-up to cover up their teenage zits.
Makes me wish there were national teams and mass international media coverage for the people, both male and female, who do interesting things with their minds. Surely there the treatment would be more equal. After all, creativity and artistic achievement aren’t dependent on whether the person who attains it carries XX or XY genes. And everyone recognizes that.
Or do we?
I was recently interviewed by my local newspaper about a reading for romance writers I’d helped organize. The piece that was published was fun and informative and brought in a number of people to our reading. It was only after the event, as I debriefed with a friend, that I realized that the interview had centered on the questions almost everyone asks about the romance genre: why is romance so popular? Is the genre really a female-only ghetto? Aren’t romance writers raising unrealistic expectations about romantic relationships with their stories?
The answers I gave were the ones I’ve learned to give over the past five years as a published romance writer: romances, like other genre fiction, gives readers a sense that all is right in a world where much isn’t. In murder mysteries, the killer is always brought to justice. In westerns, the good guys win. In romance, the hero and heroine get their happily-ever-after, or at least their happily-for-now. Yes, it’s mostly written by and for women, although I know men who read and enjoy romance novels. As for raising unrealistic expectations, romance readers know it doesn’t always work out in real life but they are happy for the couples they read about when it does.
It seemed so silly that the stories I write should be given more scrutiny than a western or a sci-fi novel. And yet the subject comes up frequently in interviews as well as the blogs and websites of romance authors.
But I put the whole issue aside and went back to my writing until a week later when I was listening to my favorite radio station in my car and the grammatically incorrect and sexually explicit “Lay, Lady, Lay” came on. Huh, I thought. That’s like a good, spicy romance novel. A half hour later, it was “Tonight’s the Night.” Then “Sexual Healing” and “Do That To Me One More Time.” My ears—and my mind—were opened.
For days after, as I drove around on my errands, I categorized the songs I heard on the radio the way my publisher would have categorized them if they’d been submitted as romances. What I discovered was that almost without exception, the music on every station I tried (and I have satellite radio in my car which means I had much to chose from) was about love. They were, to use Crimson Romance’s categories, mostly spicy and contemporary with a smidge of historical, if you count the music of the 50s and 60s as historical. (Sorry, paranormal and romantic suspense fans. I didn’t hear anything to fit in your categories.)
And the heat level was anywhere from behind closed doors to Rod Stewart’s fairly accurate description of where all the body parts would be when he took her upstairs.
Why hadn’t I thought about this before? Music has always been associated with love. Popular music of all kinds, from the Big Band era on, is explicitly about love, just like romance novels. And some of the songs—actually a lot of them if my limited survey was accurate—were spicy enough to warrant the occasional complaint from a parent or political leader.
And yet no one disparages popular music because it talks about romance or asks if it sets up unrealistic expectations. No, people are more likely to ask what music to put on to “set the mood.” What makes the difference between how pop music and the romance genre are regarded? With my answer I ended back to the Olympics.
Like the coverage of the every-four-year extravaganza, the pop music that’s played most often is male dominated—a guy wrote it, probably sings it and certainly produced it. So, it would appear that, if a guy has something to say about love, romance or sex it’s okay as long as it’s music. But if a woman writes it, it’s not so okay.
We have come a long way toward achieving equality. My favorite example is: my mother was born before women were able to vote and my daughter is a law school graduate. Pretty sweet. However, we still have room to improve. And positive press for both women athletes and women writers would be a step in that direction.
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