When I was a kid, a sibling signed me up for this book club he'd heard about, where you got books in the mail every month! As an avid reader, he was sure I'd be thrilled about it.
I was 11, he was 9, and the books were one of the Harlequin bundles.
It only lasted a month before our parents got the bill, and the subscription got canceled, but I'd hidden away the six books I'd gotten before that; I think I told my mother they were lost. I read them all, but I only remember one of them now. The plot was this brilliant female scientist who had to impress a CEO, and decided to play the brainless blonde, afraid that she would intimidate him. Eventually, she tells him the truth, and he loves her even more now that she's smart. In the middle, they had a really steamy encounter in a bathroom that has fueled my fantasies for some twenty years.
But no one in my family read "those sorts of books," and I wasn't about to try and take them out of the library, so I fell away from romance. I found my way to J. R. R. Tolkein, and Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey, and the other fantasy giants who existed in the early to mid 90s, when YA wasn't really a Thing yet, and adult books bored me, but "kids" books were so boring I couldn't possibly have cared less. And I was a feminist, so I knew that I was supposed to hate romance novels, because they were the symbol of everything that was wrong with the patriarchy.
It's only recently that I started really digging deep to think about why that is. Because the disgust for people who primarily read romance is 100% still intact. "Mommy porn" is said with a kind of inherent derision that is never applied to "spy thrillers" or "epic fantasy."
The misogyny in hating romance is fairly obvious; it's the only genre women are "allowed" to write, so it's viewed as lesser. But let's think about this a little more. Why is romance acceptable for women? Well, because it's the acceptable sphere for women, isn't it? All that love and emotion crap that "Real Men" don't cotton to? Women are the keepers of society's emotions, after all, so it's vaguely acceptable if we're writing about "that stuff."
Women are the ones who bear children, women are the ones who have, no matter their suitability for the role, been shoved into the job of primary caregiver in Western society throughout the ages. We are told that we are the emotional heart of the human race--and then, when we write about it, we are derided as lesser for diving into the only thing we're supposed to be able to master.
I've come to find reading romance a feminist act. I dig into the works of people like Courtney Milan and Alyssa Cole and Alisha Rai, because when I do, I better understand the women with whom I share the world. I better understand the struggles of women who are not seeing the world through my particular set of privileges and biases. I learn more than I ever have reading the work of your average cis-white-het-male. I'm not saying that the works of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and John Scalzi haven't challenged me, made me rethink my world and see things through a different light--but it's not the same.
A friend (cis, white, male, heterosexual) asked me yesterday if I was comfortable writing a romance that was written by a man. I shrugged, said it didn't particularly bother me. He asked why not. I gave him a long look and then said "I'm used to translating that perspective to my own. It's not news." He laughed about it, and agreed that I was right.
So don't come at me, hating romance but claiming to love women. Don't tell me that happily ever after is immature, and that problematic endings are more complex and realistic. If you have decided that I represent the emotional center of the human race, then you can sit the hell down and listen to what I have to say.