How many roads must a man walk down?

This month’s hot topic in the blogosphere is the role of men in romance, to wit whether it is desirable for them to have one. The first thing I want to say on this topic, and it is basically the whole theme of this post, is that this is a conversation that the community has to have with itself.

Let me know when you decide.

The one specific point I did want to address was male members of the romance community engaging or not engaging with the community at large. There seem to be two contradictory schools of thought about this one. The first being that since romance is a female-dominated community, men have a distorting effect on it and they should therefore stay the hell away. The second being that men in the romance community have a duty to be active members of the community to show they’re just like everyone else.

I think these both of these positions have their merits (although I sometimes feel that some people subscribe to both at once, despite the fact they are clearly contradictory). Having been tangentially involved with the community since 2013, I find myself leaning increasingly towards the stay the fuck away camp, and I thought I’d take a bit of time to explain why.

The first thing to recognise is that oddities within any community do draw a disproportionate amount of attention, both positive and negative. You see classic examples of this with women in gaming, and it gets deeply problematic because for every Felicia Day you get a Jennifer Hepler. Obviously, romance is unusual because it’s a female dominated community so whereas women in gaming are both a minority in the hobby and marginalised along gender axes outside of it, men in romance are in the awkward position of being a minority within the genre with all the problematic baggage that implies, but having behind them the weight of a patriarchal society.  This immediately presents men in the genre with an impossible dilemma. It is clearly wrong to deny your status as a privileged outsider, but it seems equally wrong to draw attention to it. To put it another way, there is a fine line between checking your privilege and, for want of a better term, waving your dick.

A specific complaint levelled against men in romance and, at the risk of sounding blunt, against me in particular is that male readers and writers tend to make little effort to engage with the wider community. I know I’ve been criticised for only ever commenting on my own posts, for example. Several people have suggested that this is because men expect women to come to them, and not the other way around. Obviously it’s not my place to tell other people what to think, or what to write, but it is my place to decide why I do things, and, well, that isn’t why I don’t comment very much on other people’s blog posts.

The first observation I would make, and I apologise if this sounds glib, is that I don’t believe “women will come to you” is an expectation men are raised with. Quite the opposite. We are explicitly taught by society, books, movies, and television, hell even by romance novels, that the attention of women is something we acquire actively. When was the last time you saw a teen comedy in which the shy, nerdy hero gets a girlfriend because he meets a girl who just finds him physically attractive? I have been trained my whole life to believe that the way to get a woman to pay attention to me is to consciously seek her out and do things for her. If I was really, really invested in grabbing the attention of the romance community, I’d spend a whole lot more time commenting on blog posts, and a whole lot less time actually reading them.

One of the things I have tried very hard to learn as a white man on in the internet in general, and as white man involved in the romance community in particular, is that often the most helpful thing I can do is shut the fuck up and listen. I actually read a great many romance blogs, but I have long been of the opinion that it would be arrogant of me to believe that an interesting post needs my comment to validate it. And, given the difficult status of men in the romance community, I am deeply aware that commenting on a blog post could be seen as an unwanted intrusion into someone else’s space.

I am, at heart, quite a talkative person, and I like having conversations with people, but I do not see it as my place to butt in on conversations that other people are having perfectly well without me. When people come to my articles, or my blog, I know that they’re happy to interact with me. Whereas in the wider community, I’m conscious that my involvement in a discussion can be problematic. And, for that matter, that there many people who genuinely believe that I shouldn’t be talking about this stuff at all. Hell, I’ve seen people say that I am silencing female voices merely by reviewing romance novels.

Once again, it’s not my place to tell people what to think, what to say, or what to write, and it certainly isn’t my place to tell people what they are or are not silenced by, but in this extremely complex context I am naturally very cautious about splashing myself all over the internet. When you are aware that there are people who will feel pushed out of their own community by your presence in it, it seems only courteous to minimise that presence.

To put it another way, engaging more actively in the community would be to ignore the wishes of quite a large proportion of that community, and that just seems like kind of a dick move.


43 Responses to How many roads must a man walk down?

  1. Michele Mills says:

    First of all- where have I been? I didn’t even know “we” were having the discussion as to whether men belonged in the romance community or not. If I had been asked I would have said- of course they do! They’re already here! For example, I talk all the time to you, and a few other male writers on social media often. I also have two local writer friends who are male and belong to my rwa chapter who I work/chat with. To me men in romance is as natural as breathing. And just because you’re a man in the romance industry (and okay, it’s true- a minority) doesn’t mean you’re some kind of role model on a pedestal who has to behave a certain way. All you need to do is show up and be you. Period.
    Also, you not participating in others blogs isn’t a symptom of your essential snootiness (puhleaze!) it’s instead your essential humbleness, which I find enchanting. I’ve heard you say on Twitter before something about how you don’t like to retweet because you felt like you didn’t feel capable of judging what is good or bad to inflict on others on your feed (excuse my awkward paraphrasing).This ties into the not commenting on others blogs. It just shows what you were saying, you are a humble man who likes to chat, but in a sheltered environment where you know for certain people are there explicitly to talk to you- that way you don’t feel like you’re butting in. I get that. I’m a total ham, so I don’t operate that way of course :), but I understand it in you and I respect it.
    Please just go on being you, Alexis, doing your thing-everything else will fall into place.

    ps-“Minimizing your presence” doesn’t include Twitter, right? I’d better still see you on Twitter Alexis! That’s an order! *hugs*
    pps- What the heck was that about your reviews on DA? I LOVED those reviews. They were brilliant. *grumbling*

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Awww, thanks, that’s very kind of you 🙂 And, of course, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me on Twitter.

      It’s a debate that’s obviously been going for a while, and it recurs semi-regularly, particularly when a dude says something stupid or offensive about the romance genre.

      In all seriousness, I can understand why people are concerned about this kind of thing. And obviously while it’s very nice to hear that some people aren’t, you kind of have to sensitive to everybody’s position. Just because you’re not bothered by me, doesn’t invalidate the fact that some people might be.

      Thanks for the kind comments about the reviews – I really enjoyed writing them. I still review a bit for H&H – there should be one going up in the next week so, I hope 🙂

  2. Kris says:

    Wow! Sometimes I feel like I’m living under a rock. I never realized how many strange arguments seem to take place in this little world of ours. Now you’re being judged if you comment and judged if you’re not commenting? You’re not allowed to review books unless you meet a certain criteria? Seriously? Sometimes it’s so tempting to just stay off of the internet. Best wishes on dealing with this. I always enjoy your posts and your reviews.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      There’s nothing specific for me to deal with here – it’s just a question of being sensitive to other people’s concerns and feelings. I just wrote this today because it sort of came out in the context of something else, and I thought I should at least clarify myself.

      I think it’s a long-standing and entirely understandable debate. I normally don’t engage with it directly because it’s not mine to make a call on.

      But thank you for the kind words, and I assure you leaving the internet isn’t necessary 😉

  3. Susan says:

    KJ Charles wrote a little piece the other day about why she writes M/M romance. I like this line of hers: “If it is so bizarre and inconceivable for a straight woman to write something as mundane as two men falling in love, I really wonder why nobody has ever questioned my ability to write serial killers, organised crime, complex magic systems, giant rat death, alternate worlds, or a Victorian nobleman punching a ghost in the face – also things of which I have no personal experience.”

    I’ve seen comments and discussions about why so many women read and write M/M books and have wondered why it…matters?

    As I read your post, I wondered the same thing. Why do some women really get up in arms about having men around the romance community? I don’t know if I buy into their arguments, but I appreciate you sharing the ones you’ve heard here in this post. I respect the why’s of the decisions you made for yourself. But, I, like a lot of the fans of your reviews, really enjoy reading your POV…both as a male, but also as a “newbie” to the romance genre as you were originally touted on DA.

    So if it means having to come to you to get those goodies, I’m happy to do so.

    Lastly, I wonder if it’s additionally complicated as a male writing queer romance and what kinds of yay’s and nay’s you hear from people in that role. Totally different perspective on a slightly similar’ish topic (if you kinda squint at it…)

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Oh I must have missed that post, but great 🙂 Of course, I feel bad that there’s so much questioning of … reading and writing in general. I guess it’s complicated in a slightly different way with m/m because of the ways it can become … y’know … oppressy.

      Hilariously I’ve also heard it said that queer men writing m/m is too problematic because it garners them inappropriate attention. And while that may or may not be true, I kind of feel it’s *more* problematic if they don’t. Because then you have a genre that explicitly closes itself to the people it arguably concerns.

      I do, however, understand why these sort of questions – especially men in romance – are important to some people, even if they’re not to others. I’ve always seen myself primarily as a new reader – although a year and about two hundred romance novels later, I’m not sure if I still count as one – but I guess how other people see me is up to them, and if male is more relevant than anything else about me, then that’s their call to make.

  4. Las says:

    “The second being that men in the romance community have a duty to be active members of the community to show they’re just like everyone else.”

    Unless I missed something, the issue there is that men have a duty to be active members of the community IF THEY’RE GOING WRITE AUTHORITATIVELY ON THE SUBJECT OF ROMANCE.

    So when a man is given a platform to write about romance–say, at Salon or a popular romance blog–and that man has not only never participated in the community before but gets a whole lot of positive attention from so many, it’s a issue. The latter, of course, is an issue of the community as a whole and not the man in question, but the former reeks of a mansplaining.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you for the comment.

      I think I’m a little bit confused about what you mean by authoritatively here. If by authoritatively you mean expecting that your opinion will carry greater weight than that of other people, or that your opinions will be taken as fact or gospel, then I, well, I don’t think anyone should write like that at all. And I think authority in that sense is actually incompatible with any concept of community. To me the essence of community is that everyone’s voices are equal.

      Which leads me to the second possible reading of authoritative, which is the sense of having any right to express your opinions at all. I very strongly feel that it is wrong to suggest that a person’s opinions may not be valid merely because they haven’t come from the right background or had the same experiences as other people. Obviously, it’s a very different situation because of the power dynamics involved but this is something I encounter a lot in SFF. A great many people (usually from marginalised groups) are barred from interacting with the SFF community because of legions of entitled nerdboys who insist you’re not allowed to think Conan the Barbarian is racist unless you’ve read at least three biographies of Robert E. Howard.

      Where I think we do agree is that I do very much feel that it’s important for people’s work to be judged on its merits and, while I try not to make assumptions or proclamations about the romance community, it would be churlish of me to deny that, in all probability, male writers receive a disproportionate amount of attention. Again, this is partly why I tend not to engage with people who haven’t explicitly chosen to engage with me.

      • Las says:

        “Authoritatively” referred to things like that Salon article and you getting your very own column without, to my knowledge, never having even commented anywhere before, on one of the biggest blogs in the community. Which is why I’m so puzzled by your post, because the twitter discussions and blog posts criticizing that Salon piece–and those that have discussed your involvement with DA–have been pretty specific about why exactly they were a problem, and you seem to be dismissing all of that and claiming that it’s merely a debate over whether men should participate at all. That is so very clearly not the case.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          I can’t speak for Salon, and – to an extent – I can’t speak for my writing at DA either. From my point of view, the situation was very simple. I wrote a review of The Flame & The Flower, and submitted it to a blog that publishes reviews of romance novels. I then pitched a series of follow-up reviews charting my initial forays in the genre. As far as I’m aware, that’s how reviews get on the internet.

          I wrote this blog post to explicitly address one specific criticism which I felt it was reasonable to address because it concerned by personal motivations. After I started writing for DA, it became very clear to me that people – for perfectly understandable reasons – didn’t feel I belonged in the community. I, therefore, limited my interaction with it. I’m happy for people to say what they like about me in their own space, but I wish to state for the record that my reticence to interact with the wider romance community was an attempt to respect the wishes of that community, and not a statement that I believe the community should come to me.

  5. Vanessa says:

    Oh, Alexis.

    I just want to say, I hate that you feel outside our genre–because you write in it, and write some of the very best of it. And you read it, and analyze it on a level that gifs and stars and feeeeeeeeeelz don’t touch. It’s not about what’sin your pants. It’s about the books. And it makes me sad, and it makes me angry that you are made to feel unwelcome at the table.

    For the record, I feel there is a HUGE difference between a man who write and reads in the genre commenting on the state of the genre, vs. a mainstream media player who reads a handful of books for an assignment and uses his platform to tell the rest of society why romance is

    1. inferior
    2. indulgent
    3. not worth their time except
    *3a. a special curated list of non-genre romance books he believes are the best of romance ie: romeo and juliet, or some nicholas sparks something coming out in a movie next week, etc.
    3b. a special curated list of genre romance books which were released over a decade ago and are mostly out of print and or irrelevant to current genre in some other way.

    The fact that anyone would lump you in together with the latter just boggles the mind.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you for the kind words – it’s not so much that I feel outside the genre, so much as the complexities of men in romance in general mean that I feel the responsible course of action is to moderate my interactions with the wider community.

      To be fair, I’m not sure anyone explicitly compared me to Noah Thingy, but I tend to pop up discussions about men in romance because I wrote for quite a prominent blog quite regularly for some months, and garnered what some people feel to be a disproportionate amount of attention for it.

      Normally, I just stay out of it, because – as ever – not my place, but I noticed that people seemed to be making claims about my motivations for my relative non-engagement, and that was something I sort of wanted to reply to.

  6. PeggyL says:

    I’ve said it before though not in these exact words:

    Alexis, I was glad to have read your works (especially your early reviews) and virtually “met” you last year. I like your writing style and it’s a joy to follow your thinking through your posts. Obviously you don’t owe us more reviews, but they were actually the means we were introduced to your writing in the first place.

    Some romance readers may be more vocal than others; more, I’m sure, prefer keeping their thoughts to themselves. In my opinion, heated discussions simply reflect how passionate people feel about the topic/issue. Whether to participate in the discussion is entirely up to me; I choose with whom I interact.

    Take care.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      For what it’s worth, I’m still reviewing occasionally at Heroes & Heartbreakers, but I’m less prolific than I once was. I haven’t been any means abandoned reviewing, and I’m likely to continue with it for the foreseeable future.

      I’m really happy you enjoyed them though – I very much enjoyed writing them, and interacting with the community.

      I’m very much aware this is a topic people feel strongly about, and I have no problem with people expressing their opinions passionately. I just try to do my best not to piss people off, and I’ve found the most sensible way to do that is to stay for the most part in my own space where people are free to choose to interact with me, or not.

  7. Kaetrin says:

    I just said this at Sunita’s blog (which is in response to recent posts from Noah Berlastsky, some dude from Chicago (who read 1 Thea Devine novel and thus felt able to critique the entire genre – also, he thought Wuthering Heights was a romance novel – *head desk*) and Eric Selinger (Teach Me Tonight):-

    In Wendy the Super Librarian’s brilliant post (Little Miss Crabby Pants Fires the Canon) she said this:

    “I know women online who have concocted drinking games to the phenomena of men reading romance novels. I also know women online who get annoyed with Dudes Talkin’ Romance Novels because it implies that the genre isn’t “validated” until it’s read and discussed by a Roving Band Of Penises.

    I’m a bit more casual about it. I’m fine with men reading and talking about romance novels. Hey, the more the merrier I always say!”

    I share her view about men in Romancelandia. (Also, in some sections of Romland (eg m/m romance) males are more commonly spotted and I think they have an equal a right to be here as anyone else.)

    I get grumpy when anyone (of any gender) comes in with no/little knowledge and proceeds to tell us (and by this I mean: me) all about romance. That’s just BS. Come in, be welcome but listen, be respectful of the people who are already here and don’t think you know better than they do. (This is something I tell myself and I’ve been reading romance for years.) That doesn’t mean that you can’t have an opinion (opinions being like a**holes – everyone has them) but if your opinion is based on having read ONE romance novel and your opinion encompasses the entire romance genre, well, then you’ve got to expect some pushback.

    I’ve seen articles from women doing this sort of thing too so I don’t think it’s just men. Here’s a recent one: (to which Kat Mayo from Book Thingo wrote this brilliant reply

    Those of us who read romance don’t like being talked down too, sneered at, or erased from the conversation. I think that is in no way confined only to those who read romance.


    AJH – you are always welcome at my table and part of that is because the things being complained of (with merit) are not things you did/do. You can comment at my blog anytime (but you already knew that). We don’t always agree on bookish things but I always enjoy our conversations. 🙂

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I read that post by Wendy the Super Librarian, and it would be nice if it could be that simple for everyone, but – clearly – it can’t, and that’s the reality of the situation.

      As you note, genre bashing is basically as old as the hills, isn’t confined to romance, isn’t always gendered (though I suspect it sometimes is) and is always annoying.

      It also seemingly always takes exactly the same structure. Roger Ebert did something very similar with video games ( and some guy wrote an article called Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd ( which did the same for mystery novels back in the 1950s.

      As far as I can tell the premise goes something like:

      Journalist decides thing [x] is shit
      Journalist challenges people who like thing [x] to give examples that prove it isn’t shit.
      Journalists interacts with examples in bad faith, comparing them against criteria that are made up retrospectively.
      Journalist declares victory.

      Thank you for the invitation to your table – I enjoy our conversations too, and I’m glad I’m not too annoying. 🙂

  8. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Oh, sweetie! This makes me so mad. I find myself oddly reminded of a long ago day back in 3rd grade when I looked out the window onto the playground & saw someone punch my little brother in the stomach & take his lunch. I SO wanted to leap out of the window & beat up on that other kid. Which is kinda how I feel now. Don’t laugh. And not actually a violent person, I assure you, but, GRRR! And yes, yes, I know, everyone has a right to an opinion, everyone has the right to criticize, but my personal feeling is: How dare they?!

    I mean, you are the most non-arrogant, non-intrusive, almost over-the-top considerate person I can ever remember coming across. Sometimes I think you would literally bend over backward (if you could) to avoid causing taking advantage, or the appearance of taking advantage, or giving offense or the slightest discomfort to anyone, anywhere, about anything. Which I find extremely endearing though I sometimes wonder if it’s entirely good for you, y’know? I might agree with H about the “too many fucks” thing. You might occasionally want to substitute a “fuck-off” instead. But no, that would probably be counterproductive, and then you wouldn’t be you, I guess . . .

    So “Men expect women to come to them” ? Oh for heavens sake! That sounds like a complete generalization &, I agree, with no basis in fact. It’s like a fact made up to support a conclusion. Besides which, if anyone thinks you would ever have such an attitude, they clearly have no idea who you are at all.

    And this “since romance is a female-dominated community, men have a distorting effect on it”. Maybe so, but at the risk of not making any sense, romance is female dominated because . . . it’s female dominated, not because it’s REQUIRED to be female dominated. Men are only a “distortion” if you accept that being female-dominated is the natural state, how it’s supposed to be. Which I don’t. Nothing is “supposed to be” anything. It just is whatever it is. And when it stops being that thing, it becomes something else. Why does everyone feel the need to make all these rules and cast these things in concrete? I mean, I’m as resistant to change as anyone, probably more than many, but this just kills me. And outrages me too, because this is an argument that’s been made many times in the past by male dominated institutions in response to women infiltrating their territory. And women’s rights groups rightly called foul. Well, it was wrong then & it’s wrong now. Just because women endure or have endured discrimination and are or have been the victims of exclusivity in male dominated fields & institutions does not mean that doing the same thing in reverse is allowed under some pretext of “leveling the field” or some such nonsense. Sorry to go for the old aphorism, but two wrongs STILL don’t make a right.

    As you can see, I’m winding myself up here. Not done yet either.

    The same goes for this idea that you (or any man) is “silencing female voices merely by reviewing romance novels”. That’s, I’m sorry, ridiculous. Again, that assumes only female voices should be reviewing romance novels. And/or, that they are innately superior to male voices. Well, as a reader of romance novels, I claim a vote, and I don’t agree. I value your opinion as a reviewer, on romance or anything else you feel like reviewing. Not because nor despite the fact you are a man, or a gay man, but because I just value YOUR opinion. Everyone offers a unique perspective, and I happen to like yours, a lot. I like your take on both the male & female characters. I like the way you express yourself. And you’re typically pretty damned entertaining ;-). Also, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never heard of or visited any of the blogs you review for before you started reviewing there. (And, in at least one case, since). I went there specifically to read your reviews. I realize some women may care, though I do not, whether a romance novel is written by or reviewed by a woman or a man, per se. To me it depends on the man, or the woman. But since I don’t think the romance genre is in any danger of being overrun by male writers or reviewers any time soon, women with such a preference are perfectly free to read romance books & reviews only by female authors & reviewers. But if they do, all I can say is they don’t know what they are missing if they don’t read yours 🙂

    Now then, one more thing & I swear I’ll wrap it up. The complaint that “male readers and writers tend to make little effort to engage with the wider community”. OK, now that makes furious. First of all, I completely agree men seem damned if they do & damned if they don’t here: You’re “distorting” the community, yet you need to engage with it more -? But setting that aside: Who says anyone, male or female, writer, reader, or man in the moon, has an obligation to engage in this or any community, like, at all, ever? Says Miss Anti-Social. Yeah, well. Not a fan of peer pressure. Or, well, any pressure. In such a case you can pretty much count on me to do the opposite, but admit I’m contrary.

    Still, I really can’t stand this idea that anyone has a “duty” to socialize. And more particularly, a duty to socialize with those in your field. No. This pops up at work every so often too. In the corporate world I think the real intent is to blur the lines between your work life & outside life with friends, to engender greater company loyalty. Which I find disturbingly manipulative. Not sure what purpose this kind of pressure serves in a community of readers & writers, but there’s probably some bigger picture I’m missing . . .

    I do like that all these social communities are out there, it’s nice to connect with writers 🙂 & other readers, but not as a force to pressure anyone to do what they are not otherwise inclined to do. People should engage socially when and how and with whom they want to. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.

    Alexis, I know this volatile reaction is mine and not yours, so not expecting you to agree with my tirade above. I appreciate that you, as usual, see all sides of the issue & validity within every perspective & present your own views in such a considerate, reasonable way. Part of why we love you 😉 I just felt like I had to get a little riled up on your behalf, hope you don’t mind 🙂 Take care –

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I promise you, nobody has taken my lunch. I really do appreciate your concern, and your kind words, but I just want to assure you that I don’t feel bad per se. Or rather I feel bad in the sense that I am intellectually troubled by a complex situation without an easy solution, rather than because I think people are being mean to me, or acting out of spite or prejudice.

      For what it’s worth, when I said men have a distorting effect on the community, first off that’s my words, not anybody else’s, and I didn’t necessarily mean it negatively so much as descriptively. I think being a minority within a space causes you to provoke strong reactions in either direction, and this is equally problematic in both cases. The truth is, the fact of being a man influences the way the community reacts to me, and influences the way I react to the community, and there’s not much that can be done about that.

      I wrote this post not because I was concerned because people don’t like me, but because I was concerned that people were taking my tendency not to engage with the community as evidence of … I’m not really sure, possibly insincerity, arrogance or laziness.

      As it happens, I do very much agree with you that nobody has an obligation to interact to any level with any community and an important function of a community in fact (particularly online) is to allow for multiple levels of engagement. It’s quite important to remember that people who read but never comment and don’t blog or tweet are as much part of the community as people who produce new content daily.

      In some ways I think one of the things that I don’t see eye-to-eye with the rest of the community on is that I tend to see all forms of engagement as equal and equivalent. So I don’t writing a review as distinction from reading a review as distinct from writing a comment or replying to one. I’m not certain but I think some people view things in a much more transactional way.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Thanks Alexis. I did misunderstand re “distorting”, thanks for taking time to clarify; I see what you meant there now & makes sense. Glad you’re not taking stuff personally as I (obviously) was; sorry for that, I always get so emo/ranty about everything :/ Maybe I need to impose a 24 hr waiting period before commenting. Anyway, I did actually understand your reasons for writing the post & that YOU weren’t complaining of being mistreated, that was all me. Just couldn’t seem to help taking offense on your behalf, sorry, hypersensitive, projecting. Plus, I must have an over-developed maternal gene or something, just ignore me. Anyway, nice to know we’re on the same wavelength about community interaction. As always, appreciate you taking time to reply to these comments. Oh, by the way, not shouting at you above where I use caps, that’s in lieu of italics, wish these blogs would support them 🙂

  9. KJ Charles says:

    I’m obviously going to take a biased view on this, because I’m a het woman writing m/m, so if you feel you’re intruding into a space not yours by speaking about romance, I’m going right in there with my size eights*.

    My problem is twofold: Firstly, if the thoughtful and considerate take themselves out of the conversation, guess who that leaves to do all the talking. And I would rather have the opinions of a thoughtful man than of a woman who thinks it’s OK to silence people because of their gender, because no, that does not fly. And secondly… Since I started writing m/m, a few male friends have read the books, and, you know what, they like them and they want to read more. This is not a genre they ever thought was for them. And if we shove out male commentators, it will continue to be a genre not for them.

    Which makes me sad. I mean, I wouldn’t like to see romance entirely appropriated by men, but I don’t take the view that only black people are allowed to rap or only Middle Eastern people are allowed to belly dance. People from the majority** who engage intelligently and respectfully with a minority-dominated interest shouldn’t be pushed away. Men, or indeed women, who come in with a ‘I can knock out this crap, no bother’ attitude, or arrive to tell us why we’re stupid for liking it, can sod off. But there is always a need for thoughtful, articulate people who love the genre, and my belief in general is that shouldn’t be dictated by genitalia any more than skin colour, religion or whatever.

    Yes, there are people who like to say ‘this is only for us’, quite a lot of them, and they’re entitled to create their protected spaces, but not to ringfence an entire genre.

    All that said, there’s no reason you should comment, review or anything else if you don’t want to, and anyone criticising you for not doing so really should find another hobby. You choose what you do. I’m just sad that you should feel disqualified by gender because if there’s one thing women should know not to do, it’s disqualify people by gender.

    *Sadly, I do have size eights.
    ** It really pisses me off when I find myself writing about women as a minority group. There are more of us! But in power terms, you know what I mean.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      While I’d instinctively like to agree with all this – especially because it liberates me to basically do what I like – I’m very much aware that these things are extremely subjective. One person’s thoughtful, considered engagement is another’s horrendous appropriation.

      I can see why it is frustrating to some people to see someone they perceive as an outsider, and an outsider who wields more social power than they do, coming into their space, and getting in people’s way. That obviously wasn’t my intent, but clearly some people feel that I had that effect. And, as always, I respect people’s right to say what harms them.

      I think the problem is that I genuinely can’t find a good answer. Obviously I’ve massively scaled back on everything except novels and my personal blog, and I don’t think the solution is for me to literally never say or produce anything ever. But, at the same time, I don’t think the solution is for me to ignore the effects my actions could have on other people.

      I kind of wish there was more of a middle ground but I suspect this is a mess, rather than a problem.

  10. Allie says:

    Isn’t it weird how the urge to police the internet comes over some people? And how you can’t do anything right for those people – damned if you take part in a discussion, damned if you don’t.

    You know, I really thought that once I had left high school I could leave behind all the cliques and the bullies. Guess they’re the same people who now police the internet, and the same tactics are needed to cope with them. Gah!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think part of the problem is the internet a big place and it’s very easy to treat groups of people that you don’t often interact with like they’re one person.

      As far as I tell there are some people out there who think the problem with me is that I talk too much, and there are others who think the problem with me is that I don’t talk enough.

      It’s not really there’s one group of people being contradictory, it’s that there is a variety of individuals. I can’t really go away and interact more simultaneously, so I try to do the least damage possible, which seems to be erring on the side of the former.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I’ve got a very short answer –

    Comment if you want to but don’t feel obligated to do anything more than what you want to do!

    I honestly cannot understand the arguments I keep seeing about who belongs where/when and what they should/shouldn’t do. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you on Twitter but never feel that anyone is obligated to speak to me nor do I judge someone based on if they engage outside of their personal preference.

    Do what you want to do when you want to do it and let others who have more time on their hands interpret as they will… you cannot change their minds and to try to do so wouldn’t be productive for you or healthy. Enjoy your interactions and keep doing what you do when you want to do it!!!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      That’s basically my philosophy these days.

      The thing is, I do understand that the community is extremely important to a lot of people and that they don’t like to feel it’s being exploited or misused, and ultimately people don’t any obligation to like or trust me.

      Given how complicated it is, I do tend to err on the side of leaving people alone.

  12. Sofia says:

    You’ve got a lots of comments on this one, so I’ll keep mine sort. I like to live in a world where what you are inside and you do and what you say counts, not your gender, you. You form part of this world to me because you are you so please I need you to stay in it 😀

    Waves (cannot wave my dick because I do not have one)


    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you, this is really sweet 🙂 The thing is, I do genuinely understand that while we’d all like to live in a world where gender doesn’t matter … we, um, don’t. There is an extent to which, until we live in a post-patriarchal society, the fact of being a man will change the way I interact with the community, and the way the community interacts with me. Something that I don’t think came across particularly well in this post is that I don’t think that’s particularly bad for me, it’s just something I have to be aware of and have to take into account.

      • sofia says:

        But Alexis, if we want the world to change shouldn’t we be the ones to live the changes we want to see. Yes in today’s world gender still matters but we must be agents of change (heroes). 😀

  13. I like that romland is a female dominated space. It feels very safe and liberating; I can speak freely about feminism without male troll attacks. I can speak out on rape issues and violence against women and get agreements instead of defensiveness. It’s not all girl power and camaraderie, but the femaleness is part of what I celebrate.

    When men who like romance come in, they get a lot of praise and attention. We’re so used to men being condescending and dismissive. I think some women are just really excited!! to see a man who’s respectful of our genre. I’m more or less indifferent about the issue. I don’t believe that romance needs male voices to legitimize it, like feminism. I’m also not a big fan of snarky reviews, and I’ve noticed that romance newbies (male or female) write a lot of them.

    You may not know this but I wrote lesbian romance reviews for DA for about a year. What right did I have as a straight woman to do that? I don’t know but I got very little flak for it. If I’d joined a GLBT site and received a lot of positive attention for my uniformed opinions (not that yours are but mine were), others might find that annoying. It’s the nature of privilege.

    I can relate men in romance to my discussions about diversity in also. I write a lot of non-white characters, but I’m white. Do people of color care what I have to say about the issue? Maybe not. That doesn’t mean I can’t join the conversation. But I can’t really be surprised if I’m treated like I’m not welcome, from time to time.

    I hope that makes sense. Before I forget, I wanted to congratulate you on the Lambda nomination. I think I tweeted you twice about it and got no response. I rarely see anyone I “know” nominated so I was excited. Best of luck.


    • Alexis Hall says:

      As I said on Twitter, I’m so sorry I missed your congratulatory tweets – thank you so much for sending them, I appreciate the good wishes 🙂

      I absolutely understand that, for a lot of people, the female-dominatedness of romance is an important feature of the community and, again part of the reason that I don’t engage very much outside of designated me areas, is that I’m very conscious of butting in on spaces where women are having conversations with other women. Similarly, I’m very much aware that a lot of the people who are, or were, annoyed by me having perfectly legitimate reasons for being so. And I certainly don’t think it’s the responsibility of the community to go out of its way to make me feel welcome, or not make me feel unwelcome.

      I think what’s confusing me in the recent discussion is that people seem to want me to engage with the community and not engage with the community at the same time. I’m happy to do either, but I’m not sure I can do both.

  14. Pingback: Links: Tuesday, April 29th | Love in the Margins

  15. Too much criticism and not enough love.

    You’re welcome in any romance community that I want to be a part of, and you’re welcome to participate at any level you want want.

  16. This reminds me a lot of the posts that have been written about author and reader engagement recently, with (arguably) inconsistent messages flying around such as ‘authors need to stay away from reader spaces’ vs. ‘authors need to engage more by reviewing critically more’. I do realise those two statements aren’t necessarily inconsistent but as an author, when I read such sentiments, I feel the same push/pull that you’ve articulated here. And I feel the same responses to that you’ve set out: I understand it, it’s a bit frustrating, etc. Like you, I have reacted to this by pulling back significantly online (though it was only one of a number of factors).

    So, although, like everyone else, I bemoan what you’re saying, and although I disagree with people who want men (fucking hell, anyone!) to step back from the community, I totally get where you’re coming from. And honestly? I really benefitted personally from cutting back when I did (and only suffer periodic regret over becoming such an online shadow). If it leads to you writing more books with your freed up time, I will be very happy with that.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      It’s been a policy that I’ve had in place for a while, I just haven’t made any public statements about it because I didn’t think it was necessarily relevant. I only brought it up now because it came up.

      I was also, err, watching when the author/reader debate kicked off because obviously I get a bit of that as well. It troubles me, I mean not just as it relates to me, as I feel on principle nobody has the right to tell anybody else how they should interact but I guess, I feel they do have the right to decide who they interact with.

      I think there are similar tricky issues with the author question because authors can very easily come to dominate spaces in which they appear as authors. Rightly or wrongly some people will ascribe authority to them, and that can have an unhelpful effect on debate. But, again, there’s kind of a line between asking people to stay out of your space, and asking them to stay out of their own.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Hmm, this comment caught my attention: I can see both sides of the author/reader question as regards reviews, though I personally love author reviews 🙂 But as it seems the main concern is that an author, by virtue of being known AS an author, could garner possibly undeserved attention & perceived authority, I’ve often thought that if I were an author & felt this to be problematic, I might simply create a separate online identity for the purpose of reviewing books &/or commenting/tweeting about things I did not want connected to my author identity. I mean, it wouldn’t be as satisfying, but at least you could say something about a book you liked as just an ordinary reader & not feel you are under a “gag order”. No doubt some would deem this ethically questionable, but I think as long as you do not use the other identity as a “sock puppet” to rave about your own books, nothing actually unethical would be going on. I think it could be useful for any person to have more than one online identity anyway. For example, if you conceal your identity online to prevent family, employer or fill-in-the-blank from knowing certain interests, political leanings, etc., you might also want a 2nd identity, perhaps under your real name, perhaps another pseudonym, to connect with RL co-workers, family, friends, or to connect with community interests that would reveal too much about where you live if you did so under your author pseudonym. So why not review under that other name as well?

        Of course, not everyone could review under a different name. You, for example, Alexis: Even if you were so inclined, uh – no way, your “voice” is waaay too distinctive to pull it off 😉 And yes, please read that as a compliment 🙂

        • Alexis Hall says:

          Ironically, I had almost exactly this problem at DA, in that I very pointedly didn’t make a big thing about being an author at the time, and agreed with the site owner to use a slightly differently handle, but a lot of people felt that even that was dishonest or, at least, disingenuous.

          It was another really complicated issue and, once again, I can see both sides of it.

          I think the bit that people find ethically questionable is maintaining two identities within the same community or within communities with overlapping interests.

          I think lots of people do maintain different identities in different communities, and I think this is fine, but since one of the issues people have with authors reviewing is that is authors do have a vested interest in their relationship with other authors and publishers that could be perceived as influencing says about books, and I think a lot of people would want that information up front.

          And I suppose you could argue that a secondary online identity would allow you to write what you liked without affecting those relationships, but then you’re sort of deceiving a second group of people. There’s an extent to which if I’d be uncomfortable writing a bad review of somebody’s book under my own name, I’d be equally uncomfortable writing a bad review under a pseudonym.

          • Pam/Peejakers says:

            Yes, your last paragraph, that is what I was thinking, but I think I see what you mean, giving a bad review under one name when you have an established author identity under another could be pretty “two-faced”, particularly as you might already know or later connect with that author & it would then be this guilty secret that you’d once panned one of their books. Ugh. It would be like smiling in someone’s face & bad-mouthing them behind their back. Yeah, not good.

            Technically you would be deceiving readers too, though, to me, in a sense giving a review under another name isn’t a lot different than having that opinion of a book & just not sharing it with readers at all. The end result being that they don’t know what you, as an author, think about the book. In a way I’d see that as a harmless decpetion, but then again, any deception can be problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is just plain feeling bad about it personally/guilty conscience. So you’re no doubt coming down on the right side of it, ethically/morally speaking: Why am I not surprised? 🙂

            I . . . admit I have a defiant streak a mile wide, makes me want to find a way to do what I want & not be controlled by other people’s opinions, but I recognize there’s a fine line between independence & being a self-centered brat. I guess if I were an author in this position & felt strongly about reviewing despite objections, it would be best to just be honest , do what I feel is right & try to deal with any flak. Which, I guess, is pretty much what you’re already doing. 🙂 I hope you keep reviewing when & where you can; I love your reviews!

  17. Irish Smirfette says:

    Hey Alexis, I’ve never actually posted on your blog before, mostly just on GR here and there, but figured this would be a good post to be my first. Why not, eh?

    I don’t really know a lot, really any, of the back-story that may have prompted this post so I’m only going on what you’ve written here today.

    “The first being that since romance is a female-dominated community, men have a distorting effect on it and they should therefore stay the hell away.” <<<< I don't have a problem if some people feel this way but I'm… I guess I'm confused. Why would it matter to anyone who gets involved in the "romance community"?
    In other words, why would one person's involvement negatively affect mine, especially if the only other alternative is for someone to NOT be involved. The "not" part is what I just don't get. How do I have a right to say someone else can't be involved?? I'm shaking my head.
    I don't spend enough time online to see a lot of what happens, but if people are complaining about men in the romance community, whether specifically you or any other, well it just leaves me shaking my head… still.

    Not to be a smartarse (or ass ;), only that I am, but who WOULDN'T want men involved in the "romance community"???
    Oy vey.


    • Alexis Hall says:

      Hey – welcome to my blog, and thank you for the comment 🙂

      I do actually think is a really complicated issue, and I can absolutely see why some people are concerned the role of men in the romance community. Broadly speaking, we do live in a society in which male voices and male opinions are given disproportionate weight in pretty much every field, and when you combine that with the fact that men are in romance are also a curiosity, it means that there is a danger that male members of the romance community will wind up having an influence that is disproportionate to their involvement in the community.

      I think it’s the case in most spaces that women have to shout twice as loud to be heard, and that’s not currently true in romance simply because it’s female-dominated, but I can see that some people are concerned about it becoming true in the future.

      To put it another way, the fact that women are a numerical majority in the romance community is not by itself enough to stop that community becoming male dominated. KJ Charles mentions above that she dislikes using the word minority to describe women because women are not actually a minority in a numerical sense, but they do wield disproportionately small social power. It is by no means inconceivable that a comparatively small of sufficiently loud male voices could unbalance the community and, for want of a better term, fuck shit up 🙂

      • Irish Smurfette says:

        Yup, I know that’s the point, that in so many aspects of society men wield power disproportionate to their population, I see it every day when I walk into work. I def understand the concerns that this could happen in the romance community.
        I guess my ideal circumstance side was showing because I don’t want anyone feeling either worried about that happening nor that they shouldn’t participate due to that dynamic.

        Thanks again for a great post and discussion, as always. 😀

        • Alexis Hall says:

          No, I totally understand – in an ideal world, this would ridiculous non-issue, and obviously it would be lovely if people didn’t have to have these concerns. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and they do – and I just feel it’s important for me to be aware of that.

  18. A.R. says:

    First, I just want to admit that I’m way late to the bus on this topic, but I’ve been slowly making my way through your blog, and this is the first time I’ve come across something that I feel strongly enough about that I have to comment, even if it’s so after the point. I’ll warn you now that this is gonna be loooong, because this post hit on the tip of a bigger issue–in my mind–that I have strong feelings about.

    I’ve read enough of your stuff now to know that you’re a very thoughtful, intelligent, and mature voice in this field. The fact that you’re male should be utterly incidental to these facts. I appreciate your attempts to be respectful of other people’s spaces, and as a woman, I’d like to say that I find it entirely refreshing to have a man not only bring this issue up but actively search for the way to be most respectful of his peers. I see this as a refreshing thing not because I believe that men don’t care about these issues or think respectfully, but because many of them have had similar experiences that have led them to believe that shutting up is the best way to handle being a member of primarily-female communities, so it isn’t often said. So while I appreciate your attempt to be respectful, I feel like you’ve actually gotten the very short end of the stick here and in a very bad way. I’m gonna soapbox a little here and hopefully show why I think you have every right to join this community with as much volume as you like, and why it’s in the best interest of women for you to do so.

    1) The idea of shunting men away from romance is sexist. It is, by definition, judging someone’s inclusion into a group, the content of their comments, and their value by their gender. Yes, it’s true that men do this to women far more frequently. This does not mean that we’re allowed to do it too. “He started it” is not a valid argument for why a behavior should continue. I know many women might be concerned that male voices might overtake the conversation, and yes, women have, historically, suffered from male voices usurping ground, so the idea of a safe space for women’s voices absolutely holds appeal. However, I struggle with the idea that safe can only be defined by an absence of men. I think men who can be respectful are perfectly safe. This creates another sexist expectation at the same time–the benevolent sexism inherent in the assumption that women’s voices are always safe from other women, which is not true. In other words, if we’re concerned about unsafe spaces, women should be focused on weeding out jerks, not men.

    2) While we’re on the subject of female places, the romance industry is not a reasonable place to expect one. The main characteristic that brings people together around romance is a love of romance, not femininity. There is absolutely no reason for women to feel they have a right to this as a default ‘female’ ground. Romance, relationships, and love stories inherently involve every human being on the planet–women have no right to say that these types of books belong to us alone. To rely on this argument is problematic for women as well, because it’s an example of women buying into a stereotype of women, namely that to be female is to love romance and love stories, and that’s ground I’m not willing to cede, particularly since there are a lot of women out there who don’t read romance. This doesn’t make them less feminine, does it? Nope. So I reject the idea that this genre and community gets to (or has to) define itself as feminine by default.

    (Consider too that this is not an argument that would ever fly if we were to exchange the genders here. You mentioned the gaming industry–if men were to say that gaming is primarily male and that men should be able to keep it primarily male because they deserve to keep it free from female influence since there are other industries where women have more of a say…I can’t even keep going with this because it sounds ludicrous to me. Again, the fact that women have been historically kept out of some places doesn’t give us the right to do it to other people.)

    3) The idea of excluding men bothers me in part due to the fact that romance is a peculiarly male-driven fandom considering the femaleness of its fans. While I’d love to include lesbian fiction in this argument, it’s an extremely small subset of the genre, and the reality is that an enormous part of this industry is based around an interest in maleness and masculinity. In theory, we write and read books about falling in love with men because we love falling in love with men. To exclude men from that conversation implies things that I’m not entirely comfortable with, focusing mostly on whether or not we’re objectifying men. If men are not welcome to partake in a field that places great emphasis in the value of having men, it is because they in some way threaten the fantasy. This makes me concerned that we’re actively creating men as objects as opposed to real people. And again, just because women have been objectified (and excluded from conversations as to whether this is okay behavior), does not mean it’s okay for us to do it to men. And if there are problematic portrayals of men in romance, men should have the right to say that. We would never expect that women should politely excuse themselves from a conversation about sexist portrayals of women in a male-oriented hobby–again, see the gaming industry.

    4) Having men feel like they’re doing the right thing by pulling back from primarily-female communities does a very big disservice to women as well. For one thing, this is an opportunity for us to show male-driven communities how to incorporate people of a different gender in a non-threatening, non-defensive, and inclusive way. For another, men who are respectful and care about the same issues that we do are important allies in gaining the romance genre a measure of respectability in a culture that often sidelines the interests of women. Allowing men to see that so-called female interests can have worth to men is an extremely important thing.

    5) Finally, gender is a unique sort of marginalization compared to those of race, religion, orientation, etc., because even the oppressors (for lack of a better word) suffer from some of the effects. Men are just as subject as women to gender stereotypes, unrealistic expectations, and countless cultural messages–and those things can be just as damaging to men who don’t inherently fit inside those boxes. Women should be encouraging men to break those stereotypes about masculinity because that allows us the same wiggle room. In other words, we should be encouraging you to come into a primarily-female space because the more you’re allowed to thwart gender stereotypes, the better that is for the people who are most frequently penalized by them.

    So…all of that is my way of saying that I would hope in the future that you might feel more comfortable speaking up, because this genre (and the cultural issues raised by it) needs thoughtful analyses like yours, and it would be a shame (and an injustice) for us to lose it simply because you’re male.

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