Hi guys! I hope everyone’s summer is going well, and that you’re perhaps lounging by the beach, or somewhere equally appealing, with a good book in hand enjoying an escape into another world. I also hope whatever book you’re reading isn’t trashy because, well, no one wants a trashy book. It could ruin the reading process and break glass when you throw that eyesore of a story out the window.
And nobody wants to fix a broken window, am I right? I mean a trashy book just isn’t worth it.
Still, as I wrote those last few sentences, I wonder just what, precisely, people thought of when I said “trashy”. I mean, what’s the basic definition of trashy anyway? Let me see … ah! Here it is!
(especially of items of popular culture) of poor quality.
“trashy novels and formulaic movies”
I find it humorous that google’s definition gives an example of “trashy novels” here. Still, this definition of the word trashy is basic, and doesn’t fully answer the question of what people may have thought when I mentioned the word. I mean, we can define a word all we want, but that definition will take on a new perspective when personal opinions get involved.
For example, my idea of a trashy novel is one that just doesn’t quite satisfy. Perhaps it’s not well written, the characterizations are badly managed, the plot is full of holes big enough to encompass the state of Alaska, and/or the plot devices are contrived and nonsensical. These things, to me, make a story of poor quality as the definition noted above implies. You just don’t read these stories without complaining over every little aspect and perhaps wondering what the author was thinking when writing it.
But that’s my idea of a trashy book. This perspective may also be shared with several other people, however, 7 times out of 10, someone seeing the word trashy in relation to literature will automatically think of one genre before any other; Romance.
Despite being a billion-dollar-industry, the word “trashy” has been used in relation to stories written for this genre since, well, long before I was born. Even one of the biggest community websites for romance novels has the word Trashy in its name (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books). This isn’t meant as a disparagement by the chicks who run the website, but as stated, romance novels have been called trashy all across the board so often that us fans have come to employ it in our own vernacular as a playful way of suggesting sure, we’re all reading trash, and we enjoy it!
Still and yet, there are plenty of instances where this is meant as a disparagement, particularly when it comes from people who’ve never read a romance, or only read one romance and think every story is just like it. Even some romance readers call their books of choice trash because they’re ashamed and consider reading romance as being a guilty pleasure.
Recently, I saw a post on tumblr where someone was trying to articulate a request for book recommendations, and initially, they couldn’t quite bring themselves to admit that romance novels were their focus of interest. They started out by saying they’d been reading a lot of “easy thinking stories” lately, then finally admitted what they wanted by stating “trashy romance novels”.
I won’t lie, I legitimately felt sorry for this person as this is a very obvious case of internalized misogyny. This is a reader who’s found enjoyment in the romance genre, but has heard so often that romances are just dumb and trashy that they don’t feel as if they’re allowed to enjoy it without receiving a negative backlash. So they’re ashamed and can’t bring themselves to ask for more without bashing it in order to alleviate that shame and make it seem as if “I’m on board with the haters, I just enjoy a little “light reading that doesn’t break my brain” once in a while.”
Before I dig any deeper into this, allow me to state something up front; there are trashy romance novels out there, just as there are trashy sci-fi stories, and trashy mysteries. Trashy dramas, trashy horrors, trashy thrillers. There’s trash in every genre because not every book is a shining example of a good story for that genre. World building is unbelievable, mysteries are transparent, character responses are overly dramatic, and the thrills are cheap.
But if you’re a fan of the genre, you don’t throw the entire thing out because you read one bad book. Yet somehow, this happens with the romance genre frequently.
Bad romance stories are just like any other bad story; poor world building, weak plot devices, unrealistic characters, etc., and even fans of the genre will find a book they hate and call it trash. I’m no exception to this rule, and hell, I find some books I adore and some I hate within the same series. Here’s the best example I can think of on short notice; One of the most entertaining books I’ve read in recent times is Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole (the IAD Series). However, and on the flip side, one of the biggest disappointments I’ve read in recent times is Lothaire by Kresley Cole from the same series. Would I call that book trash? By some standards, I have to say yes, I really would.
But that book didn’t make me throw out the series, nor does a bad romance story make me throw out the entire genre and refuse to come back. After all, even a bad romance can serve a purpose in showing a reader what they don’t like, what doesn’t work for them, and help them to evolve their tastes so they know more precisely what it is they’re looking for.
So why is romance so consistently bashed with the trash stick? Well, the biggest reason is, in all honesty, misogyny–and before you throw your hands up and exclaim I knew it!, give me a chance to explain because I have two different points to make here, and one of them may not be what you’re expecting.
So first, let’s look at the way any and all things created by women for women get treated. These things are typically thought of as girly, and what do people usually associate with the word girly? Weakness, ineptitude, immaturity, frivolity, and even vapidness. So naturally, a genre that’s predominantly written by women for women must be filled with books that encompass these same qualities, right? They’re all shallow reads with no greater thought required than “character A hooks up with character B and that’s the story.”
Still and yet, you’ll hear women (as mentioned above) calling romance trashy, and while this can be attributed to internalized misogyny, that’s not always the case when you have books in every genre that are, in fact, trashy–which leads me to my second point.
These women’s opinions are based on a long standing reputation that wasn’t earned by the idea that romance is girly, but because thirty-forty years ago to be precise, quite a few romance novels employed a number of misogynistic plot devices to deliver a story, and they’ve given several women a damned good reason to hate romance.
For example, many heroines were never given a choice over whether or not they had sex with the hero. The reason is that female sexuality is apparently one of the greatest taboos the world has ever seen. A woman isn’t supposed to like, want, or enjoy sex, and if she does, she’s a slut/whore/harlot/tramp/slattern/etc., and women during that time period had been raised to believe such things about their own human needs and desires.
So it was harder for them to identify with female characters who had no shame over their sexuality, and readers could more readily accept a heroine who’s never given the chance to show their desire for sex by eliminating the possibility of giving consent altogether.
In turn, many people call romance trash because they think this is the continued standard of current novels on the market. So though (thankfully) this is much less commonly seen today, not everyone realizes just how much the romance genre has evolved since then. I mean look at women’s lib; the idea that women should be treated as equals was just the first step taken in feminism. But women weren’t elevated to a man’s status over night, and we’re still struggling for human rights in several regards. So the next step was learning how this is achieved, and the history of treatment female characters receive in romance novels is proof of the progress being made.
Decades ago, heroines weren’t given much choice, and today, you’ll find fifty books in a single search featuring heroines who’ll readily jump in the sack with no apologies because she’s not afraid to take what she wants. Or, on the reverse, you’ll find her refusing to have sex, saying no and actually being respected for her decision.
So yes, this “trashy” business is really just a lingering reputation that we’re all trying to get past. Some readers have, others just believe the caliber of romance is continuing on along the same lines. But unless what you want to read is a bad romance novel, I’d suggest not asking for trashy romance in your rec requests, and instead, just asking for good books that might tickle your fancy. :)