This month’s hot topic in the blogosphere is the role of men in romance, to wit whether it is desirable for them to have one. The first thing I want to say on this topic, and it is basically the whole theme of this post, is that this is a conversation that the community has to have with itself.
Let me know when you decide.
The one specific point I did want to address was male members of the romance community engaging or not engaging with the community at large. There seem to be two contradictory schools of thought about this one. The first being that since romance is a female-dominated community, men have a distorting effect on it and they should therefore stay the hell away. The second being that men in the romance community have a duty to be active members of the community to show they’re just like everyone else.
I think these both of these positions have their merits (although I sometimes feel that some people subscribe to both at once, despite the fact they are clearly contradictory). Having been tangentially involved with the community since 2013, I find myself leaning increasingly towards the stay the fuck away camp, and I thought I’d take a bit of time to explain why.
The first thing to recognise is that oddities within any community do draw a disproportionate amount of attention, both positive and negative. You see classic examples of this with women in gaming, and it gets deeply problematic because for every Felicia Day you get a Jennifer Hepler. Obviously, romance is unusual because it’s a female dominated community so whereas women in gaming are both a minority in the hobby and marginalised along gender axes outside of it, men in romance are in the awkward position of being a minority within the genre with all the problematic baggage that implies, but having behind them the weight of a patriarchal society. This immediately presents men in the genre with an impossible dilemma. It is clearly wrong to deny your status as a privileged outsider, but it seems equally wrong to draw attention to it. To put it another way, there is a fine line between checking your privilege and, for want of a better term, waving your dick.
A specific complaint levelled against men in romance and, at the risk of sounding blunt, against me in particular is that male readers and writers tend to make little effort to engage with the wider community. I know I’ve been criticised for only ever commenting on my own posts, for example. Several people have suggested that this is because men expect women to come to them, and not the other way around. Obviously it’s not my place to tell other people what to think, or what to write, but it is my place to decide why I do things, and, well, that isn’t why I don’t comment very much on other people’s blog posts.
The first observation I would make, and I apologise if this sounds glib, is that I don’t believe “women will come to you” is an expectation men are raised with. Quite the opposite. We are explicitly taught by society, books, movies, and television, hell even by romance novels, that the attention of women is something we acquire actively. When was the last time you saw a teen comedy in which the shy, nerdy hero gets a girlfriend because he meets a girl who just finds him physically attractive? I have been trained my whole life to believe that the way to get a woman to pay attention to me is to consciously seek her out and do things for her. If I was really, really invested in grabbing the attention of the romance community, I’d spend a whole lot more time commenting on blog posts, and a whole lot less time actually reading them.
One of the things I have tried very hard to learn as a white man on in the internet in general, and as white man involved in the romance community in particular, is that often the most helpful thing I can do is shut the fuck up and listen. I actually read a great many romance blogs, but I have long been of the opinion that it would be arrogant of me to believe that an interesting post needs my comment to validate it. And, given the difficult status of men in the romance community, I am deeply aware that commenting on a blog post could be seen as an unwanted intrusion into someone else’s space.
I am, at heart, quite a talkative person, and I like having conversations with people, but I do not see it as my place to butt in on conversations that other people are having perfectly well without me. When people come to my articles, or my blog, I know that they’re happy to interact with me. Whereas in the wider community, I’m conscious that my involvement in a discussion can be problematic. And, for that matter, that there many people who genuinely believe that I shouldn’t be talking about this stuff at all. Hell, I’ve seen people say that I am silencing female voices merely by reviewing romance novels.
Once again, it’s not my place to tell people what to think, what to say, or what to write, and it certainly isn’t my place to tell people what they are or are not silenced by, but in this extremely complex context I am naturally very cautious about splashing myself all over the internet. When you are aware that there are people who will feel pushed out of their own community by your presence in it, it seems only courteous to minimise that presence.
To put it another way, engaging more actively in the community would be to ignore the wishes of quite a large proportion of that community, and that just seems like kind of a dick move.