I’m always here to be a thorn in the ass of annoying people online and right now… that’s a lot of people who view themselves as (gate) keepers of Romancelandia’s Sacred Sexy Flame.
Let’s begin with a bit of backstory:
January 25th at 7PM YouTuber Jack Edwards – whose whole thing is being a guy who reads books and then talks about them for his subscribers – tweeted the following joke using a popular meme format:
romance books: this man is so big. he is just so huge. he towers over me. all i can think about is how big he is. his arms are big. but i have to contain this feeling. we work together! yet my mind is imagining a life with mr big in all his enormousness. he is so… big.
This is “normal”. Most people writing traditional M/F romances engage in a really dramatic size difference between their hero and heroine.
Please check out the obvious and exaggerated size difference between Riftan (the big guy) and Maximilian (the tiny woman) in Under the Oak Tree.
In the follow up tweet Jack makes before trying to do a little thread, he mentions that he’s doing a video on romance and that his main observation is “the word ‘big’ is used an absurd amount in the romance genre”.
Instantly, the hordes descended on him and it was… bad.
In his replies alone – quote retweets were a different screechy beast until non-Romancelandia fandom people got involved and boosted the mood by talking about their size kink preferences – you have dozens of people who armored up to defend romance from… a guy cracking the mildest possible joke about the genre’s size kink.
It wasn’t a critique and it was barely even commentary, but it was being treated as if Jack said that liking size difference in romance made you a monster or as if he was clowning people for liking it. (When clearly, it was a good-natured joke about something plenty of us have joked about and put in our own romance works.)
People accused him of making fun of romance readers/writers, lumped him in with the people who do really inaccurate commentary on romance, and even… bodyshamed him. (Lots of people saying he was complaining because he was short or had a small dick… which cannot possibly be a thing you say to another human being except – they did.)
You can go through the replies to his tweets and see some of the awful commentary there because not enough people had the shame and sense to delete their awful takes. There were so many subtweets too, sneering at him for being a man “talking over” Romancelandia – by making a SINGLE joke about his observations while doing a speed-run – and plenty of absolutely horrifying aggressive threads intent on misrepresenting him.
One absolutely unhinged person actually weaponized her dead dog in an attempt to make Jack feel bad. No joke: she actually said that’s what she was doing:
“Just to make you feel bad… after my dog passed this year I read 84 romance novels, often audiobooks while baking to fill the void of my 60lb golden retriever and his personality. The stillness of it all. You’re dissing on a genre that got me through the death of my dog…”
The original tweet had a photo of her dog for extra guilt tripping energy.
And the thing is that… he didn’t diss romance.
Even if he’d offered a critique, he wasn’t “dissing” romance. But he didn’t offer a critique, he didn’t drop a dunk or a diss.
At no point did he actually dismiss romance because of these large ass dudes populating the genre. He made a joking observation using a popular meme format and… literally hundreds of incredibly aggressive white women romance readers and writers descended on him because it’s a rule on twitter that you “don’t mess with Romancelandia”.
Jack Edwards is fair game because he’s a white guy who’s been deemed an outsider – and at what point do you become an insider in romance because there are people who’ve been reading romance for decades and talking about the extreme sexual dimorphism present in romance… and how it can make queer people, trans mascs and femmes, and POC feel to read them and uh… they don’t get listened to either.
But because he’s an outsider and a man, it was okay to guilt trip him, to attack him, and to mobilize in the same way that they did against Dana Schwartz and Time for an interview she did that seemed to “generalize” romance novels –
The thing is that Romancelandia isn’t just about romance.
It’s also about righteous rage.
Romancelandia is peak “Let People Like Things” culture and because the romance genre and its fans have gotten unnecessary backlash or has been used as the butt of jokes, people kind of… take any perceived or actual slight against the genre to go wild.
The big issue? They think criticism – or anything coming close to it – is a direct violent attack because they’re women that must be met with aggression in return. Sound familiar?
“Don’t Mess With Romancelandia” is a recurring joke around the book-oriended corners of the internet because it happens so often that the hammer of romance readers/creators comes down on people.
As with other fandoms dominated by white women, if you’re seen to “come for” anything they love or have built their identities or personalities around, they then have carte blanche to come for you in the name of… feminism? I guess. It’s supposed to be funny, but I don’t think it’s very funny to crack jokes about a fandom of (largely white) women creators and consumers that see nothing wrong with dogpiling random people over mild jokes specifically because they’re men or otherwise seen as outsiders.
(Understand how mad I am that we’re going through all of this for a random YouTuber… my god.)
White women’s anger – especially in defense of (what they think is) feminism – is seen as empowering for those women. They’re fighting against the out-group (men and male romance readers including Romance Historian Steve Ammidown, creator of Romance Fiction Has A History who’s had his credentials dismissed and his experiences mocked like in the quotes of this tweet) and so that excuses the nasty things that they then say to other people over it. They’re accusing people of gaslighting them and so they’re fighting gaslighting with… fire.
After all, they’re claiming to fight the patriarchy and they’re pushing back against cultural norms about sex/uality and desire, so anything goes, except … they’re not.
One big issue I realized as I watched (and screenshot) dozens of incredibly aggressive women try to pretend that Romancelandia was once again under attack by the patriarchy – was that a lot of these people sure did try (are still trying!) to position themselves as oppressed by Jack Edwards’ tweet because they are women who like large (tall but not fat) men in their romance novels or real lives.
I didn’t know my liking Kim Namjoon – the big, beefy, and brilliant leader of BTS – made me marginalized online, but I guess I missed the memo?
Anyway, Jack Edwards didn’t intend to start sharp commentary on the ridiculous bioessentialism and sexual dimorphism present in tons of traditional cishet M/F romance, but he sure set it off!
And rather than pause to go “hey, what are we saying by getting mad about this fact of our space and claiming romance as solely for women”, people… doubled down, made increasingly aggressive tweets they then had to delete or lock to avoid getting yelled at. Because they decided to gatekeep, gaslight, and girlboss their way out of reckoning with something the joke tweet brought up: that a lot of romance writers like big ass white dudes and that can be funny to clock.
At the end of the day, romance is for everyone that wants to read or write it. Period.
Whether you’ve been reading for two weeks or two decades, if you’re into romance you’re into romance.
Gatekeeping who can read it – or talk about what they read on any level – isn’t cute.
In fact, a lot of people got downright ugly in their aggressive defense of what they’ve decided is an exclusive women-only space… because what women like is apparently above all critique and commentary. If jokes aren’t allowed… I’m assuming actual critique of things like the endless racism across the genre won’t be either.
Do better, Romancelandia.
Because this shit was embarassing.
12 thoughts on “Quick Coverage: Romancelandia Takes the ‘Girlboss, Gaslight, Gatekeep’ Meme A Little Too Literally on Twitter￼￼”
OMG, so THIS is what was going on. Holy moly did I guess wrong. Okay, so, my relationship with Twitter works like this: occasionally, my phone sends me a tweet. Do I know why? No. Anyhoodle, I got one tweet from Olivia Waite that was basically like “yup, representation in romance is a problem, but also, people who actually read romance have been pointing that out for a while now, and it’s annoying that now that someone who’s white and presumably cishet is saying it, others are paying attention.” And I was like “….okay?” And then I got another random one by Megan Frampton that was basically, “I just wish this call had come from inside the house, that’s all,” so it felt like a bunch of people were saying “yeah, this is a thing that’s real, but also, we have actually been talking about this in a corner, here, and maybe listen to us?” and I THOUGHT some person had made a comment about the whiteness/cisheteronormativity of romance (which, in fairness, there might be more than one thing going on in romancelandia this week, since I know there was also the shenanigans where Milan found that scam site with the fake ghost writers), and people got uppity about it being someone who wasn’t per se in the community. This is…not that.
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Yeah so it’s very weird how it’s been framed – has it hit facebook romance groups? what were their thoughts, if so. but yeah like… people were acting like this man walked up into romancelandia like “oh i am new here and also you have problems” but it was just a “lol size kink everywhere” joke tweet that they decided to treat as if it were serious social commentary on sexual dimorphism and THEN when men who were in romance communities (as authors, readers, and historians) were like “i see how you all are responding to this tweet and that’s fucked up and also here’s how i feel about this” in careful terms, they fully went off the rails and frankly got kind of… abusive? like again people were bringing up presumed peen size into the equation like?? and some people were having an adjacent conversation about how the “big white guys” romance loves speaks to issues they’ve had as POC or trans people reading romance … but it really wasn’t an attempt at starting a conversation or even serious commentary. he made a joke and lots of sensitive too-online women flipped out on him because they chose to take it as an attack
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If it has hit FB romance comms, it hasn’t hit any of mine, nor did it get mentioned in the Book Riot newsletter for romance I get twice a week, which, frankly, checks out, because it’s written by a WOC, and she Does Not Have Time For This Shit. (I’ll put good money on her mentioning the trashfire that has been happening in the last two days with Jack Harbon (queer cismale mlm romance writer) having re-opened the issue of predominantly white cishet women writing only mlm books and, uh. Having some deeply inappropriate crap said to him.) As far as I can tell, there’s a pretty serious disconnect between Twitter Romancelandia and FB romancelandia. There’s also a disconnect between communal sites such as Smart Bitches, and social networking. Sarah, of SB, has called Romancelandia “silo’ed” and I think that’s a pretty accurate assertion. I suspect there’s a whole slice of Romancelandia sitting on YT and one on TikTok that I don’t have any clue about, and that Twitter doesn’t even interact with on any level. It’s a weird fandom. And that’s before you even get into the subgenre splits.
Some people will act like criticism of things women like means that you’re criticizing women as a whole and I do NOT understand it. Like for example, Twilight is undeniably marketed towards women, and a lot of women liked it, but it still has some serious issues with racism and misogyny. And this tweet was just a JOKE. I don’t even get why people were mad?? Even if the tweet had been serious criticism, I for one am somewhat tired of the tall guy-short girl thing in fiction and I’d like to see different body types then “super skinny and short girl/super buff and tall guy?” And if people had to take his tweet seriously, they could have taken the opportunity to rec some books with body type diversity in them instead of just jumping on him, but then I guess book twitter would have had to pass up a chance for needless drama, and we can’t have that!
But yeah, the whole undertones/overtones of ‘men should keep out of the romance genre’ these people seem to have going on is…weird, and I’d say that trying to limit men to “manly things ONLY” is not very feminist.
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Hey, mildly OT, but if you do want romance with body diversity, lemme know what subgenre you want, and if you prefer m/f, m/m, or f/f, and I can totally do that for you. It’s defs still a growing area, but it does exist.
Oh, I’d love some recs! I’d love to find some queer historical romances with body diversity
I got you!
Patience and Esther (sapphic, fat rep): https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/53966531-patience-esther
The Doctor’s Discretion (transmale/cismale, amputee rep): https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/35673510-the-doctor-s-discretion
Proper English (sapphic, fat rep): https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/44420645-proper-english
Queer Principles of Kit Webb (cis-m/cis-m, disability rep): https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/55338994-the-queer-principles-of-kit-webb
Miss Martin’s Incomparable Adventures (sapphic, technically, this is is age representation–the characters are both in their seventies, but I argue that the reason we don’t see older leads in romance is actually because society doesn’t think older bodies are sexy in the same way it doesn’t think fat/disabled/etc, so I think this fits the category): https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/44084867-mrs-martin-s-incomparable-adventure
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[…] writing this in January 22 (and had to ask for help with some of the links herein), well before the latest twitter Romancelandia to-do. The more nothing […]
[…] Wellp, romance Twitter has been pretty, uh, active this month. If you are interested in such things, here’s the overview of one kerfuffle about all romance heroes being big. […]
That dead dog tweet is unbelievable! I was literally *just* talking to someone about how some people in fandom weaponize their trauma like this. Romance novel fan is a marginalized identity now? The More You Know! 🌈
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OMG, the exact same thing happened to the YouTuber withcindy a couple of years ago when she made one video talking about a singular romance book she didn’t like. Mind you this wasn’t even a particularly popular romance book and she was only making lighthearted jokes about it but romance booktubers acted as if she went into their houses and screamed all romance books are garbage. Cindy is Asian American and has a really dry and sarcastic sense of humour so I’m sure that fueled the flames of the outsized response to very very mild “criticism”
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Coming back to this because I was thinking about this whole situation again in light of the most recent Romanclandia drama and something that made me feel icky about this whole situation was the way white romance readers on twitter used and seemed to co-opt the language of social justice to attack this man over nothing. As you said they were doing it in the name of “feminism” so the language use makes sense in context and when I first saw the use of it I cringed, but it really made me upset once I realized most of the defenders of Jack were Black and LGBTQ. Then the white women who were calling his defenders pompous (not an exact quote, but the feel some tweets had) took on an entirely new context and frustrated me. In addition to this, though, just the use of language marginalized people use to describe their experiences and defend themselves from racism being used by people to defend a genre or fandom, it seems really inappropriate to me and since this Romancelandia situation I’ve noticed it a lot more. At the end of the day people critiquing something you like or even hating something you like is not the same as a person being racism or homophobic and I just don’t see how some people don’t seem to understand or care about that. (I don’t know if I’ve articulated myself well, so sorry if I went off topic or something, I’ve just been thinking about this a lot).