In my early forties, I was invited to join a love book club with friends. This collective of readers is made up of women, literate and passionate about a good love story.
Almost every week, we meet via Zoom to discuss the tropes, pitfalls, and character development in the chosen novel. During our last meeting, in a strange turn of events, we all felt the same about the book he dropped on every topical issue he tried to solve.
What was more surprising than all of us agreed, however, was a comment one of the girls made at the end of the discussion. It’s a romance novel, so what were we expecting?
We nodded, ready to ignore the bad writing, offensive dialogue, and mismanagement of sticky situations like gender madness. It took a second for us, who grant romance writers reverence, analyze, critique, and study the process of storytelling as a passion to realize that we are blaming ourselves. Our group of women, united by the love of gender, ended our meeting by making fun of her. Our relationship with our beloved books was fragile enough to be dismissed at the first sign of weakness.
Guilty pleasures are a loaded term, usually playlist tracks for early 2000s hits, reality TV marathons or late night snacks. Contemporaryly, we attribute the label of guilty pleasure to something pleasant that appears to be embarrassing. And, more often than not, these forms of entertainment are associated with women like reading romance novels.
In 2015, at the height of the Taylor Swifts Shake It Off era, Saturday Night Live aired a skit on Swiftamine, a drug for people who suddenly realized they liked his music. The sketch attracted the attention of many men, who desperately defended their decision to broadcast her award-winning and dominant hits on the radio while criticizing other female artists.
Swift, an objectively good artist at least in terms of streaming and sales data, is surrounded by loaded language, with stories over it using words like accusation and defense, as if these men were going to war rather than mixing their favorite songs from Spotify. The idea is this: Men don’t like romance novels, and they sure don’t like Taylor Swift. Therefore, we had better be all shy, regardless of gender, to derive joy from anything of the sort.
I’ve been getting better at noticing when others shame me for liking things, but lately, just like at the book club, I’ve heard myself shut up… myself. I would hide my love book updates on Goodreads, make my top 40 playlists private, and blush pretty hard when I told people about my Candy Crush level. I felt like all of those activities that really brightened up some pretty bad days were guilty pleasures, wastes of time that should be kept private. No one needs to know that I I of all people, as one of the most downloaded game apps all time! What would they think?
Of course, I think some forms of entertainment should cause embarrassment: listening to artists who use their influence to perpetuate abuse, like Tory Lanez, should not be acceptable.
Overall, however, I tried to stop asking what other people would think of my hobbies and start wondering why I do what I do. Sometimes the romance novels I read are substantial, intelligent, empowering, self-sustaining pieces of literature. Other times, they’re pure down. Anyway, if I like it, that’s okay. It’s not ashamed to run to a Taylor Swift song, watch a soap opera, order a fruity drink or nothing else that culture qualifies as guilty pleasure.
It is not a waste of time to make yourself happy.
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