Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

This post by Noah Berlatsky originally appeared on Pacific Standard on 10/23/14.

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.

Why do women read romance novels? It’s a question that’s often been asked, explicitly or implicitly. Two groundbreaking 1980s studies, Janice Radway’s anthropological Reading the Romance and Tania Modleski’s more theoretical Loving With a Vengeance, suggested that romance novels provided women with compensatory fantasies. Patriarchy is depressing and oppressive for women, and romance novels understand that and provide a salve.

Other commenters have been more vicious. William Giraldi declared: “Romance novels—parochial by definition, ecumenical in ambition—teach a scurvy lesson: enslavement to the passions is a ticket to happiness.” He concluded that the success of 50 Shades of Grey shows that, “We’re an infirm, ineffectual tribe still stuck in some sort of larval stage.” Since the main readers of 50 Shades have been women, the conclusion seems to be that women read this sort of book because they are stunted. If reading romance is seen as deviant or pathological, then the attitude toward romance readers is either condescension or contempt: Romance readers are either poor souls who need help, or they’re debased fools who should be scorned.


Read the full post on Pacific Standard.