The handsome stranger clutched her shoulders, supporting her as she swooned. The suddenness and violence of the robbery and her rescue disoriented Beverlee, and for a few moments she did not know where she was. But as she began to be conscious of her surroundings, she was increasingly aware of the tall, firm man she leaned against, of his big hands clasped around her shoulders, warm through the thin linen of her chemise.
She looked up hesitantly through her lashes, and into the dark, deep eyes of her rescuer. As their eyes met, a shock seemed to pass through them both. He leapt backward, and for an instant Beverlee felt the loss of his touch, the coldness where his hands had touched her. But the moment passed, and gathering himself, her rescuer spoke.
"Christmas" he said, flatly. "Bride baby cowboy doctor secret lady." And each word sang deep in Beverlee's spirit, tapping something deep in her she hadn't known existed: the desire to find a long term mate that would provide food and shelter while she had loads of babies.
-from the romance novel I will someday write.
Ahh, romance novels. Can't live with 'em, don't want to live without 'em.The genre of romance, of bodice-bustin' babes and their brawny bonafide boytoys, has been around, well, for at least as long as the written word, and most likely long before that. Tristan and Isolde, Guinevere and Arthur/Lancelot (I hope there was middle ages slash-fic of that, btw), Scarlett and Rhett, and the many improbably named men (my personal favorite was "Devilyn") and women (I bet there really IS a "Beverlee" already) of 18th century style bodice rippers.
Romance novels are incredibly popular, despite their often hilarious covers (and heck, if you've got a Kindle, no one ever needs to know!). If you go by the definition of a romance novel as "a romantic relationship is driving the story forward", then everything from 50 Shades of Grey to Twilight to Jane Austen counts.
And boy do we love them all. So much so that in 2007 we spent 1.3 BILLION US dollars on them (other genres didn't even crack a billion). Lots of people read them, estimates are that at least 1/3 of US women have read at least one (even if a good number of us, myself included, mostly do it to point and laugh). .
But why DO we like them so much? Why do people crave cheesy serial romance? Some have suggested that it's because the stories reflect our desire to nurture. Some have suggested it's an acceptance of patriarchal bondage. Some have suggested outlets of female resentment. No one has yet suggested the appeal of cheesy stories combined with nice dresses and soft-core porn. The authors of this paper, however, think it's because these book "address evolved, sex-specific mating interests". In other words, it's evolution, baby. Evolutionary Psychology.
Cox and Fisher. "THE TEXAS BILLIONAIRE’S PREGNANT BRIDE: AN EVOLUTIONARY INTERPRETATION OF ROMANCE FICTION TITLES" Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2009.
According to evolutionary psychology, men and women possess sex-specific needs.
That is, due to biological sex differences, women conceive children
whereas men do not. Across cultures, women tend to be the primary caregivers, although men often provide paternal support (Bribiescas, 2006). Furthermore, women have notably lower limits on the number of children that they can have, as compared to men. These differences have led evolutionary psychologists to propose that women tend to seek commitment from their mates, and prefer mates who have a propensity to accrue resources (e.g., Buss, 1989) since they will need these resources while they tend to the
children. Therefore, we propose that a better interpretation for the success of Harlequin romance novels is that the books are addressing women’s sex-specific, evolved, mating interests. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed the titles of Harlequin romance novels.
So basically, women want stable baby-daddies, and therefore we should find this in the titles of the romance novels. After all, you have to assume that romance novel publishers do a ton of market research, they want to develop titles that will sell. And if women are indeed seeking male providers, the titles that sell will predict this. Since potential purchasers only look at the front of a romance novel for about 7 seconds before they decide whether or not to buy it, the authors figure it has to be the title they are basing their decision on (though the hilarity of the usually shirtless man and fainting, scantily-clad woman on the cover might also be additional factors).
But these authors think it's the titles, and that words in romance novel titles will reflect a desire for stability, babies, etc. So for example, women should feel more of a desire for reproduction, and words referencing pregnancy and babies should be frequent. Women should also be seeking out male providers who will support them, so there should be a lot of themes of wealth in the titles as well. Thirdly, according to evolutionary psychology, women should be seeking long-term relationships specifically, so there should also be references to things like marriage. Finally, women should prefer attractiveness...so there should be a lot of references to male hotness.
The authors analyzed over 15 THOUSAND Harlequin romance titles, from 1949 to 2009. From these, they got the top 20 words used in the romance novel titles:
They note that some of the words they anticipated ("husband", "child", "doctor", "bride", etc) did appear in the top 20, especially those relating to things like babies and husbands. But they did NOT see any references to wealth (unless, I guess, you count "octor"), or to physical attractiveness. And I don't think anyone has ANY idea why "Texas" and "nurse" are in there.
The authors try to relate some of the professions listed to things like resources (doctor for example), and others to physical hotness (um..."cowboy"). And if you look at the top 20 professions listed, there are also many relating to traditional female roles (nurse, midwife) and males bringing home to bacon (doctors, princes, knights, and...pirates. Pirates were definitely in there).
Finally, the authors analyzed the data from the titles to show two particular themes. The first was a theme of commitment, references to weddings, brides, husbands, fiancees, etc. The second theme was reproduction, with lots of reference to children, pregnancy, sons, daughters, etc. After that, themes got a little less relevant, with things like Texas (wtf is UP with Texas and romance novels? I guess Massachusetts is just too prosaic?), resources (references to money), medical, Christmas (?), royalty, and professionals (like CEOs. Because we ALL want to read "A CEO takes over...my loins".
The authors conclude that romance novel titles indicate what women are after, and that they vote with their money to show what they want. And what they want is the long term security of a well-endowed (with MONEY, obviously) man to father their children. Doctors are big because they are secure and provide money. Cowboys are big because of their physical prowess.
So ladies, if you're reading romance novels, you are clearly doing it for the doctor, babies, princes, and cowboys. These words speak deeply to your very DNA and require you to pursue all that really matters in life: financial security and a good father to your children.
The big issue I have with...well with the very hypothesis this paper is based on, is this: WHY would people, who the authors acknowledge are already in stable relationships, be unconsciously seeking out, um, other stable relationships? After all, other studies have shown that women who read romance novels are actually MORE likely to be in a long-term romantic relationship than those who don't read them. They already have their stable (possibly providing), man. And according all the OTHER evolutionary psychology I've read, women seek out these nice stable providers, and then they seek racy boytoys on the side who will provide them with dominant high-impulsivity children. IF this is true (and that is a rather big "if", I would make it bigger but WordPress won't let me), then why would we be spending zillions on romance novels which focus entirely on...the stable things we probably already have? Shouldn't we be focusing on love'em and leave'em?
The second issue relates to professions. If you break it down by profession...well of COURSE some of them will be lucrative, and of COURSE some of them will be traditional female roles. You will also notice that most of the professions referenced are either money-making, highly respectable, or, you know, cowboys. But not all money making professions are on there. Where is "financial analyst"? Where is "drug lord"? Additionally, they authors did not take into account whether the profession referenced in the title belonged to a male or a female (there are, after all, female doctors, CEOs, and consultants).
Third issue: the analysis of the data to reveal different themes, which the authors assume all reflect a woman's desire to find financial security and a long-term father to her children. While some of them may reveal that, the words they chose are not always indicative. For example, they talk about the word "son" as being reference to reproduction, but is that REALLY the case? Most romance novel titles with "'son" in them will not be things like "for the sake of my son". Rather they will be things like "the son of a cowboy", "The duke's wayward son", etc. References to "baby" are just as like to be "Be my baby" as they are to be "father my baby". Not exactly a reproductive message. And in their references to resources (things like wealth and heirs)...well romance novel titles are often things like "the wayward heiress", "the wealth of a duchess", etc. Sure, they refer to resources, but not in the sense of seeking them from a man.
Fourth, if women really are voting with their money for romance novel titles of specific types...why did this study analyze ALL the romance novels from the last 60 years?! Why not look at the top ten sellers from each year? Wouldn't that give a better perspective on how, exactly, women are voting with their money? Market research is all well and good, but if "The texas billionaire's pregnant bride" doesn't sell, then it doesn't mean much for evo psych. The theme of Christmas, for example, came out as extremely significant, because each year Harlequin releases a pile of Christmas novels. Not because people BOUGHT them, but because they were produced. It says nothing about why, or even if, women are exceptionally attracted to Christmas.
Finally, there is no escaping the fact that all of these romance novels are designed around very strict cultural lines. The women are always traditionally beautiful (or if not, there is always something that is mysteriously sexy about them). The men are always, ALWAYS handsome. Everyone is successful and everyone gets married. Are these things we seek because our evolutionary psychology tells us we need them? Or are they things we seek because society tells us that that is what is good, what is right, and what is required to make someone a good person? I think this study can't possibly separate that out. You can't pull romance novels out of their cultural context, which means you can't get down to the evo psych. You can only get down to what the culture we are in expects us to want: doctors, babies, and cowboys (not necessarily in that order).
So maybe it should go like this:
"Christmas" he said, flatly. "Bride baby cowboy doctor secret lady." And each word sang deep in Beverlee's spirit, tapping something deep in her she hadn't known existed: the cultural trappings of her entire life, telling her that we all need babies, all want a wedding, and all need a doctor to provide for us. And, of course, that Christmas is irresistibly sexy. Beverlee smiled. She always had wanted a cowboy for Christmas.
-from the romance novel I will someday write.