I think that men need their own “romance” genre for the many books in all genres that fixate on fantastical and false tropes of femininity and masculinity.
I’ve read a variety of articles, posts and comments on this topic for the last few years but it struck me the other day that often what women see in men’s writing is the equivalent of a men’s romance genre. Generally speaking the romance genre is written by and geared toward straight white women but the genre has expanded to include a broader range of sexualities and identities and although I haven’t read many books within the genre I’m familiar with it as a way in which it allows the reader to explore their own sensuality and sexuality within an environment that is different from the reality of dating and mating in that it is geared more toward an idealized version of fantasies that the reader doesn’t necessarily wish to engage in but is still hot under the collar for. The genre is much maligned because what we want in our lives is often different from what we’d like to fantasize about for a little while. Readers of the genre have been stereotyped for their willingness to immerse themselves in selfish fantasies of hunks, heroes and millionaires who are nothing like the average guy in the dating pool. But the genre is as healthy an outlet as more serious fiction when viewed not as a nonfiction guide book but rather a life aid that enables the reader to shed the 40 hour week, noisy kids or beloved partner for a little escape into frivolous fantasy.
When it comes to male writers in every genre there’s the writer who is looking to tell a fictional story buttressed by real world facts that create rich worlds appealing to people from many backgrounds ready to be immersed in the story. Each genre has its conventions and expectations but I would argue that men who are writing for men who wish to read the equivalent of a romance novel don’t have a proper genre in which to place these stories. I’m making the argument not as a counterpoint to the tumblr post but rather because I realized that women have had fiction that allows us to explore our fantasies with the general understanding that fantasizing about being married to a billionaire who opens a mansion for kittens is about being allowed to explore that as a fantasy and gaining from it an empowered sense that we are allowed to explore that as a fantasy.
In my early teens after I had started having periods my dad had said something about knowing how periods are for women because he had sisters. It was a gross and vivid moment that stuck with me because in that moment I understood that he did temporarily know more than I did but he also knew absolutely nothing about the experience of it. I’ve never enjoyed when authors tell me how I should experience something because of my age, my sex, my ethnicity or my economic position. It rings false and gross. There are too many storytellers for any to co-opt authority on a subject, what we need now is storytellers who bridge the gap between their experience and the reader’s experience.
Which brings me to Walter Mosley. I’ve read half a dozen or so of his books between the Easy Rawlins series and the Leonid McGill series. Mosley’s writing of both is in the classic hard boiled detective style which involves difficult, troubled men and beautiful, seductive women but rather than letting his voice become swallowed up in cliche he uses the style as a vehicle to delve into African American communities to tell stories that take pieces of history, both individual and societal, and invest the reader in a world that is both fictional and visceral in a way that verbatim truth cannot be. In the Easy Rawlins series he often explore how blacks moved West to build identities and lives they could not build elsewhere. The detective genre allows him to explore the success or backlash of these lives while the hard boiled element gives him ways to explore the topics in a morally grey realm. The portrayals of women throughout both series are nuanced but there is lust, seduction and true to the genre there’s enough sex to make censors blush. Mosley’s women in the Rawlins series are sometimes bombshells, often simply sensual or attractive for any number of reasons that appeal to Mosley’s male gaze. However, they don’t detract from what Mosley is writing about but rather they guide the reader to many facets of male sexuality which are not always developed in pop culture. They expand the worlds he writes by delving into love, lust, family, heritage, security, insecurity and identity.
It is possible for male writers to write books with female leads and visa versa but as I read the tumblr suggestions I found myself frustrated. I’m a woman but I can’t write to every woman’s experience and I really don’t want to be taken as the authority on other women’s experiences. When I read Mosley’s books I don’t see him as an authority on black communities in Los Angeles during the mid-20th century. I see his books as an invitation to see through his eyes and experience stories he’s accrued in his lifetime. I enjoy seeing the ways he writes about women in the series being loved by men who sometimes fail them and sometimes sacrifice everything they can for them. He explores the ways men want to live their lives, the ways they fail and the ways they try to bridge those gaps. His women who are desired are sometimes strong, sometimes vulnerable but they aren’t merely objects of desire. The nuances and complications and the messy areas of dissonance between Mosley’s gaze and mine are what make me love these series.
As I read the list of knowledge women were sharing with male writers I was left frustrated. More than anything I think that writers raised on old school fiction tropes need to be taught how to write authentically. I don’t want you to write me. I’ll write me. I want you to reflect on your world, your experiences and authentically write stories that build a bridge between our separate worlds. And maybe I won’t like your story, especially if you tell me that you’re an authority on women because you have a mother. But, mostly I just want writers to keep delving deep below the surface to mine the small truths. With the Easy Rawlins series Mosley connected me to places I was familiar with in California and offered me new ways to view places I thought I knew and that’s all you really need to do as a writer, expand someone’s world rather than shrink it into tropes that crumble under scrutiny.
What do you look for from writers with your background? What do you expect from writers who are different from you but writing about something familiar to you? What do you think about a men’s romance genre?