Saturday, 19 November 2011

What is romantic fiction for men?

Inspired by Sam Sykes' blog post.

As a cross-genre writer, I often spend time researching comparable works and reader 'I'm looking for...' requests. One of the most interesting (and illuminating) subsets of fiction I encounter is the elusive Romance for Men category.

Romance and chick-lit often get lumped together in an amorphous mass of fiction designed for, targeted at and marketed to women. Yet it's known that many husbands and boyfriends secretly steal a peek at their lady's ab-swathed literature when they're not looking. Romance just isn't seen as cool for men and, aside from the feminist/literature debate, reading a mass-market (read: trashy) novel with a pink sleeve is decidedly unmanly. And why, for that matter, is it then implied that it's mostly women who like 'trash'?

It's an odd thing about people, because gender associations are so arbitrarily designed and maintained by societies rather than the bits we're born with (or without). I recall one wonderful anthropological example, where males of a tribe in Papua New Guinea considered themselves more masculine (and therefore heterosexual) the more semen they consumed after performing fellatio on another man. Although the sexual gratification and romantic intentions may differ, just that act would be regarded as homosexual in the UK and a 'receiver' (feminine) role. There are other examples of moveable, action-defined gender across the world, but it would probably bore you all to list them here.

Oh, and pink was more commonly designated as a boy's colour in the nineteenth century in Western culture. Modern associations have re-defined the colour's implications. Although I imagine our current associations will be entrenched for longer because of modern media, I wonder if greater education will eventually lead to chick-lit that comes in green.

Blimey, never thought I'd be arguing for chick-lit. Yikes. Anyhow, romance for men does receive some attention on the net. And I love the assumptions that come out of helpful responses.

"So you're looking for something with more of a storyline?"

Does that mean romances don't typically have a storyline? Are men so much more cerebral that they need a story behind the sex. Har. Har.

"You want something from a male perspective?"

Okay, fair comment but I know that many women really enjoy reading romances from the man's perspective.

"The hero is a broken-down forty-five-year-old man with no job and a drinking problem. A gorgeous twenty-five-year-old woman falls madly in love with him."

Apparently men like to read about ugly men who find hot women, whereas women like to read about hot women who date hot men. I think it is more socially acceptable (read: cool) for a man to read about an anti-hero, but that completely ignores all the hunks in sci-fi, comics and the rest of it who always get the girl. What I'm trying to say is, there's a huge spectrum of romantic scenarios that both men and women enjoy.

As for gay romance, its market is far from limited to a gay audience of either gender (Brideshead Revisited, Brokeback Mountain etc. etc.). 

Personally, I don't care what genitalia you've stashed away while you read my fiction - and as a notionally asexual author I hardly have the balls or tits to comment.


  1. Romance for men isn't elusive, it just isn't called, 'romance for men' because men don't do 'romance' do they? It's called, military sf — good old fashioned dick lit/ bromance, gun metaphors optional ;)

  2. Hehe. I think there's some truth in the 'hiding behind genre' idea.