Disclaimer: I originally posted the diatribe below as a guest at Romancing the Blog. I post it again here for those of you who don't frequent that particular blog. For those of you who do, you'll find that this post is like cold pizza -- better the second time around.
Just like we’ve known that Victoria’s Secret is that “she’s” a man, baby, we’ve known that men have been writing romances since the dawn of time. After all, the Jennifer Wilde that introduced me to Marietta Danvers was actually a man named Tom E. Huff. But what about some of the men inhabiting bookstore fiction sections and bestseller lists? It’s getting harder and harder to separate some of their work from that of the women writing contemporary romance.
For example, Eric Jerome Dickey writes women so well that I swear someone has given him the secret estrogen handshake. No one can tell me that Milk in My Coffee isn’t a romance novel. However, the writer who embodies my thesis by far is the great Nicholas Sparks. I mean, Message in a Bottle? The Notebook? Nights in Rodanthe? If those aren’t romance novels, then I don’t know what romance novels are. Yet, you won’t see Sparks in the romance section of your chain bookstore.
Contrary to what some of my bitter single girlfriends may want to believe, men can actually relate to the themes prevalent in romance – the desire to couple, the journey to finding a partner, the ability of unconditional love to soothe the rough edges of past hurts, for example. As someone so succinctly put it recently, men are the new women. They’ve realized that there’s a life outside of sports. They’ve come to appreciate culture and the finer things in life. They’re plagued by the same insecurities once thought to affect only women. The concept of metrosexuality is a physical manifestation of this point. Just one pass through Men’s Health magazine reveals that men have their own version of body dysmophia (“bigorexia”). Men are whitening their teeth. They’re dyeing their hair. They’re having cosmetic surgery in record numbers. I live near a military base, and it’s common to see battle-hardened warriors in fatigues getting a mani-pedi. In short, we’re more alike than we’re different. The war itself might still be raging, but this particular battle of the sexes is a draw.
Slowly, though, I think that those who use gender to put genres in certain boxes and stock bookshelves may have gotten the memo. A couple years ago, when I read that Devon Vaughn Archer and Wayne Jordan were the first two men to write for Kimani Press Arabesque – without hiding behind girly pseudonyms – I sensed that there was a sea change in the offing. My cynical side asks if this is because maybe pink is the new green. I recently wrote a piece for Examiner.com about how romance is the recession proof genre, that it’s the tide that’s lifting all boats while the publishing industry at large attempts to reinvent itself.
My hopeful side says that, even though I’m not all that stoked about men having to validate the genre with their presence, maybe this is the first step in romance escaping the pink stigma. Perhaps men – both writers and readers – will realize that embracing their so-called feminine side is to embrace the human condition… while enjoying some damned good fiction in the process.