Reading The Romance begins with a heavy and complicated question that Janice A. Radway seeks to answer: (p.15) Does reading romance literature, with passive women characters, only confirm a patriarchal society? OR does reader satisfaction from choosing to read, against others wishes, act as a form of independence and opposition? Radway acknowledges the difficulties of answering this question when she states, “The struggle over the romance is itself part of the larger struggle for the right to define and control female sexuality. Thus, it matters enormously what the cumulative effects of the act of romance reading are on actual readers” (17). I think what makes this question even more difficult is that when talking about topics such as these (consuming romantic fiction, watching soap operas, etc) it is hard to articulate exactly what draws the reader or viewer in as well as what effects the consumption has. It is similar to asking someone if they are affected by mass advertising. Everyone likes to say no, when in fact everyone is, subtly or overtly.
The part we are reading for Monday does not answer this question yet, but it is interesting to see the results from Radway’s questions that she gives to her group of readers. Looking over the results, it seems that the average romance reader does it for relaxation as “me time,” likes a happy ending to a love story, and likes the hero of the love story to be intelligent, tender, and with a sense of humor. These answers seemed very predictable. The element of romance reading that most aligned with Radway’s assumption of the reading furthering patriarchy was that, “the romance’s short-lived therapeutic value, which is made both possible and necessary by a culture that creates needs in women that it cannot fulfill, is …the case of its repetitive consumption” (85). The book is similar to a melodrama television show that leaves the viewer unfulfilled and brings them back again next week in the hope of that fulfillment, only to repeat the cycle over again. One element that did seem interesting in her research is that the women liked to read historical romances because they felt they were able to learn something about the historical time period and impress their husbands and family with facts that they learned while reading. This attribute of reading the romances seemed the most aligned with Radway’s proposal that the reading could be seen as a form of empowerment. However, I feel that the act of reading in general is more of a form of empowerment. Therefore reading romance novels doesn’t necessarily seem like an act against patriarchy, but reading novels that teach some type of history align with reading in general as a form of gaining knowledge and therefore confidence in that acquired knowledge.
I have been looking at the viewing habits of “guilty pleasure” television shows as a form of research for my senior project. Women’s consumption of guilty pleasure TV shows has one major difference. The act of romance reading is mostly done solitary, as an individual activity, usually not with a romance book club. By contrast, guilty pleasure television is mostly consumed as a group activity. While the act of reading is seen as a legitimate activity because it is used as a deserved “me time,” watching shitty television is made legitimate by enjoying it in a group setting. Can the ways in which women consume television be used to answer Radway’s overall question of confirming or fighting against patriarchy? Or- is television consumption a different field entirely? I am not sure I can answer this question yet but I think demographics make this question very difficult. I do not think women can be grouped into one category. Consumption of media is very different for teenagers, young women, educated women, stay-at-home moms. Etc.
(On a total side note- I found Radway’s analysis too narrow. I would be interested in seeing her proposed project of researching working, educated women and their consumption of romance fiction.)