Sarah Wendell wrote to the RWA Board for more background. Or just, you know, spend five minutes on Twitter.
To be abundantly clear, I think the outrage is justified. I'm not going to argue the book's right to exist. Look at the title of this blog. I'm a librarian. I'm a librarian with an extensive background in collection development. I often tell librarians if you're not routinely buying books everyday that you'd rather drive nails up your arms than read/endorse/whatever than you're not doing your job. I can't tell you the number of books I've bought for work over the years written by authors who are deplorable sacks of human garbage and books I find downright offensive. So while I personally find the idea of this book repugnant, I'm not going to say it needs to be wiped off the face of the Earth. I'm not sure why this outrage waited to erupt into a firestorm post-RWA when the nominations came out in March - but whatever. Here we are now.
How the book even got nominated is the question many people are asking and one I cannot answer. RWA has a special membership class for booksellers/librarians, and that's where I reside - which means I'm not eligible to judge the RITAs. For the record, while this example is probably the most egregious WTF on the judging process, it's not like we haven't been down this road before. People seem to have forgotten already, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past that books with "erotic content" had a hard time cracking into any of the categories. Hence why I always supported an Erotic Romance category in the RITAs, while others argued that those books should be considered under their broader classifications (Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal etc.). It was apparent that erotic romance was not going to get a fair-shake any other way. Finally, no longer able to ignore the sub genre in a post-Fifty Shades (::shudder::) world, we got one. Then there was 2014 when we had 30 bazillion nominees in Historical and Contemporary, but Inspirational saw two and Erotic Romance saw three. Then you have the lack of inclusion of Authors Of Colors and LGBTQ writers. So yeah, it's not like the RITA judging and nomination process has been infallible up to this point.
Here's the thing I keep coming back to. While we're all outraged and upset over this particular book getting nominated in two categories (it didn't win either, praise Jeebus), everyone is happily ignoring the elephant in the room. The elephant we shall call Power Dynamics. When discussing this particular book everyone is, rightly so, bringing up the completely imbalanced power dynamic that smacks of Stockholm Syndrome. The heroine falling in love with a "hero" who is essentially her captor. A "hero" who is responsible for the slaughter of millions of people (Read up on the SS sometime and watch your hair curl. Seriously.) So while we're happily pointing out that this book is repugnant because of that skewered power dynamic (among other issues) we are completely ignoring the fact that the genre has a pretty screwed up history with power dynamics in general, and how these imbalanced power dynamics are all over some of the most popular areas of this genre right now. Yes. Right. Now.
Let's look at some of the darker edges floating around the genre, shall we? Motorcycle clubs. A subculture traditionally not known for their forward thinking views on women. Never mind the criminal activity. The downtrodden, naive heroine who aligns herself with the powerful billionaire hero because she literally has no other options. New Adult, where you can routinely find young, traumatized heroines falling for "bad boys" who aren't exactly pure as the driven snow. "Dark Romance" which features stories like the "hero" kidnapping the "heroine" and raping her until she falls in love with him.
It's easy to point the finger when it's a book on the outside. A book you may not read. It's much harder to point a finger and analyze books you personally may have enjoyed and recognize that they are problematic as hell. Dear members of the romance community, it's time to look within. We can point the finger at Jewish heroines falling in love with SS officers who run concentration camps all day long. In baseball terms, we call that a bloop single. It's like shooting a target that's standing right in front of you. It's much harder to view your own reading through the same lens.
And lest you think Little Miss Crabby Pants is putting herself above the fray? I admittedly like Boss/Secretary stories. If that isn't a big heaping pile of WTFBBQSAUCE Power Dynamic mess, well nothing is. We hold ourselves above this fray and cloak it in ways we find more palatable. This would be why we constantly hear "escapism" bandied about within the genre.
At the end of the day I think the genre (all genre fiction actually) is a representative of the time it was produced in. Look no further than all those espionage novels that came out during the Cold War. Romance is no different. It's a genre that needs to be viewed through the lens of social history. The Bodice Ripper Era tells you a lot about the 1970s/1980s for example. The rise of the paranormal and dystopian romance in a post-9/11 world? Someone start working on an academic paper on that subject. Issues of consent. Issues of power dynamics. These have always existed in the genre. They still exist today. It's just we're starting to see them come into play a bit more in our brave new digital publishing world. I'd argue these books are in a response to something in our broader culture. What that is? I have theories, but time will ultimately tell.
So yes, while this particular inspirational romance is messed up and Little Miss Crabby Pants is no way endorsing it and wondering how the hell it got nominated? She also recognizes that the genre, and it's readers, as a whole should take a long hard look in the mirror. Look within yourself and start admitting some hard truths. I'll be over here doing the same.