Romance Novels Are for Everyone

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S1: This is the waves. This is the waves. This is the wave. This is the way. This is the way. This is the waves.

S2: Tick, tick, tick, tick. Tick, tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick.

S1: Welcome to the Waves Slate’s podcast about gender feminism and this week heaving bosoms. Every episode you get a new pair of women to talk about the thing we can’t get our minds off. Get your mind out of the gutter. Today we’ve got me Marissa Martinelli, an associate editor here at Slate.

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S3: And me Rachel Hampton, a staff writer and host of Slate’s Internet Culture podcast. In case you missed it or I see why am I.

S1: On today’s episode? We are talking about romance novels. So I grew up reading romance novels. I worked in a public library in high school, and when things were slow, I admit I would sneak into the back section where we had all these little stubby mass market paperback books with couples passionately embracing on the cover. And I would flip through them and I would try to find a sex scene. A lot of us did. There was a whole group of I know, I know. I’m sorry to my bosses who hopefully are not listening to this podcast, but there are a lot of teens working at this library and we all kind of did it. We loved making fun of romance while also kind of secretly enjoying it. But at least I did. Now, as an adult, I still read romance, and I’m fascinated how attitudes about the genre, which has been so often stigmatized and ridiculed, have changed. Rachel, why did you want to talk about romance novels?

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S3: That’s a very leading question because you definitely know the answer to this as you introduce me to romance novels.

S1: Oh, did I?

S3: Oh, yes, yes. Yes, you did. Way back in the in the halcyon days of 2019, when we still went to the office, you gave me the Duke and I, the first book and the Bridgerton series. But I would say I’ve been in through romantic content for my entire life. I can’t say romance specifically because there actually are very specific rules about what constitutes romance. But I basically grew up reading fanfic. I adore Twilight, which is basically a paranormal romance. One of the books that I think most influenced my developing teenage brain was the Bronze Horseman trilogy, which does not have a happy ending. But there was a lot of sex scenes in it, and then the pandemic hit, and all I did was just gulp down Beverly Jenkins novels for months on end, to the point that by year two of the pandemic, I felt like enough of a romance savant to be able to write a profile on romance novels. Alissa Cole Which was edited by None Other Than You Marissa. So basically what I’m saying is I wanted to talk about it because of you.

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S1: Well, one of the things I love about romance is the kind of whisper network of, oh, you have to read this and someone pressing a book into your hands, which is something I think we’ll discuss a little bit later in the podcast. Coming up, we’ll talk about how romance has often been called a genre by women and for women, whether or not that’s true. We’ll get into and how sexism and feminism have shaped the romance fandom for better or worse. Then a little later in the show, we’ll dig into Bridgerton, Netflix’s smash hit adaptation of that series of romance novels by Julia Quinn. If you’re a Waifs fan, you might remember that a few weeks ago, Lily Loughborough and Nicole Perkins had a terrific discussion about romantic comedies. And if you’re thinking, I’ll write romance novels, kind of the same thing. Buckle up. Because the genre has its own unique history and plenty of baggage to go with it. You often hear romance described as a genre by women and for women, and we’ll get into why that’s not entirely true in a bit. But it is true that there is a long history of sexist stigma associated with reading and writing romance novels, and that women’s role in shaping the genre plays a big part of that.

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S3: But before we get into that, I do think we actually have to define what we mean by romance. I feel like there’s this misconception which I held actually for a long time, that romance basically means anything with a couple in it. But that is not true. You can kind of trace the origins of the modern day romance novel Back Centuries to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela to Anne Radcliffe to, of course, the big baddie in the room, Jane Austen, the Brontes. But today, the Romance Writers of America, which is the major organization for authors on the genre and a group that we will get into later, explains the pretty strict definition for romance as a literary genre. There are really only actually two rules. There must be a central love story, and it has to have a happy ending. No exceptions.

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S1: Romance has a reputation for being kind of silly, in part because it is something that focuses on, you know, love and romance and hope, which, for whatever reason in our society, are things that are not considered serious and vital. And also because, you know, for a long time it was relegated to sort of, oh, this is for a female audience. But, you know, smart women read women all the time. I read romance. You read romance, Rachel? Stacey Abrams reads romance and also writes her own romance novels. So let’s let’s unpack a little bit what we like about the genre. For me, it’s to start and interiority to the female characters that you don’t necessarily get from, for example, romantic comedies. And I think that that’s part of the, you know, sexist stigma is the idea that because it’s taking place in a woman’s head, it is therefore unserious. There’s also a lot of different subgenres within romance. It’s not all the dramatic clinch cover with people’s clothes falling off that we tend to associate with it. In fact, you can actually read a lot into what’s going on in a society by what romance novels are popular. So there’s a type of romance novel that centers around a billionaire, probably most famously in the 50 Shades of Grey Books, which Sarah McLean persuasively pointed out in the New York Times, coincided with the recession, a time where a lot of women felt that they were expected to both do the lion’s share of the housework and also hold down a job. So you can see the appeal there of having a steady source of income and the lavish lifestyle to accompany it. And that’s true of a lot of romance, right? The fantasy is essential to the romance, including fantasies that may rankle different waves of feminists. You have rakes who are a stock character in romance. They’re sexually experienced, and they often seduce the virginal heroine. It’s a fantasy. In fact, in Maya Rodale dangerous books for girls, the bad reputation of romance novels explained, which is kind of my romance Bible. She has a very funny quote in there from romance novelist Courtney MULLANE, who crunched the numbers and the chances of finding a man in Victorian times who had unprotected sex with 500 women who did not have a venereal disease is 0.00000000000000000000001%. Okay. It’s not real. And. Women who are reading these books know it’s not real. You often hear romance described as unrealistic, but like we know that that’s not why we’re reading these books. What about you, Rachel? What is it that you like about romance?

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S3: I mean, speaking of things that aren’t real, I typically read romance by black women because I just love a universe in which, you know, black women are loved and cherished and protected, which we’ve seen some recent news that demonstrates that that is perhaps not the case on a societal level. But you mentioned something earlier, which I think is really important, is that the happily ever after this idea that there’s always going to be a happy ending is considered really pure evil. And I really hate this idea that there is something infantile about hope or optimism because it’s actually much harder to work within the constraints of a romance novel in a lot of different ways, because everyone knows what the ending is going to be. So you have to keep your readers engaged because as soon as they pick up that book, they know what’s going to happen and they know that two people introduced are going to end up together. So what you have to do is be able to draw out tension and some kind of plausible plot device that keeps them apart for the span of about 200 pages, which I’m going to be honest, a lot of your big name authors can now spin a plot for their life. But, you know, back to black women, which is not my main area of concern. There actually is a really long history of black women reading romance. In fact, they always have, which is really surprising to a lot of people because up until the eighties the industry was solidly white, as in mostly white authors writing about mostly white protagonists. And it wasn’t until the eighties when Vivian Stevens revolutionized the industry and created the first imprint for Black Romance that she helped launch writers like my beloved Beverly Jenkins and Sandra KITT. She also founded the Romance Writers of America, which is now the largest trade organization for romance writers. She did a lot and a lot happened after she did that, because between the eighties and now, there’s a lot of a lot of shit that we can’t quite get into because of time constraints. But suffice to say that Stevens was pushed out. Slash left the industry and black romance writers and readers were mostly left with specifically black imprints like Kermani from Harlequin until around 2015, which is a better situation than in the eighties, but not by much because Black Romance was basically segregated into different imprints. It wasn’t under like the main big imprints where all the money would come from. And it wasn’t until this new slate of writers like Alissa Cole and Jasmine Guillory and Talia Hibbert signed on in around 2015 2013. They begin to sign imprints that up until then had mostly published white writers. But in Marissa I’m you’re well aware of this this drama. Even as it became abundantly clear that Romance readers wanted to read black authors. And as importantly, romance novels by black authors were not only successful within the genre, but outside of the genre. The RWA refused to recognize them in their annual awards in 2017. No black author had ever won in any category since the organization started giving awards in 1982. And again, this is an organization founded by black women that had been courting black authors and other authors of color and trying to diversify the membership because they realized that they needed to diversify their membership to survive, but then wouldn’t actually reward them with anything.

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S1: Yeah, and that systemic aversion to change, I think, is one of the many reasons why there is an enduring image of romance and pop culture that the genre can’t seem to shake despite efforts to shake it. This is the part of the podcast where I say the name of someone who is going to get romance. No. And really mad at me.

S3: You’re going to do it.

S1: Fabio. I think of Fabio as he who must not be named because people hate when he comes up in discussions about the genre. Fabio is, of course, Fabio Anthony, the famous cover model whose luscious, long hair and inability to fully button his shirt, led to him being featured on the cover of many, many romance novels. The exact number depends on who’s counting, but it’s very likely in the hundreds.

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S3: Oh, my gosh.

S1: In the 1980s and 1990s. Yeah. Fabio hails from an era of clinch covers, as they’re called. Those are the covers where the couple is in a passionate embrace. And Wallentine actually wrote a really interesting piece for Slate about the history of romance covers, specifically following Bridgerton’s romance covers and how they’ve changed. Over the years. And it’s fascinating how much all of the cover redesigns are related not just to marketing, but also to discretion. And the assumption that women or romance readers in general, I should say, are ashamed to be reading romance. The clench covers are like a bat signal for all to see that this person is reading a romance novel, and not everyone wants to advertise that. And marketing departments have been figuring out how exactly to telegraph to readers. Hey, this is romance, an incredibly popular genre, while also allowing them to, you know, be discreet.

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S3: That’s really fascinating because, I mean, a lot of the authors you’re talking about, like Jasmine Guillory and Alyssa Cole and Holly Hibbert’s recent series are all cartoon characters rather than actual, like real people on their covers.

S1: Yeah. Cartoon characters are definitely one of the ways that they’ve kind of flattened romance into a general chick lit aesthetic. Earlier solutions included step backs, which were books that essentially had two covers. They had the classic clinch cover underneath and then a more chaste cover on top so that when it was displayed, you only saw that one you had to peek under for the good stuff. Mm hmm. So Fabio got his start in that era of clinch covers. And even though romance has changed a lot as an industry, and that’s not even, you know, the full picture of what romance was in the eighties and nineties Fabio endures. I mean, just last week, a movie came out starring Sandra Bullock, The Lost City, in which she plays a reluctant romance novelist. And her love interest is her cover model, who is definitely a Fabio type. He’s got the long flowing blond hair, and everyone when he goes to events is like, take off your shirt. And the movie actually really engages with his identity. In fact, I think the villain at one point calls him Fabio sarcastically. But the movie comes to the conclusion that, you know, it’s pretty great to be Fabio and it’s pretty great to embrace romance. So there’s always that tension between embracing the stuff that makes romance maybe be perceived as silly and pushing back against it. And I think where when it comes to romance fans and romance novelists, they tend to be more on the side of pushing back against it instead of embracing it. Barbie Fame career is pretty indicative of a broader trend in romance novels, too. Perhaps the most important characteristic of the male protagonist, which is that he is a large man. Capital L, capital M, large man.

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S3: Large man team is perhaps, I think, one of the first tropes I’ve noticed in romance. And what you’re saying about that kind of tension between the legacy of romance and pop culture and what it currently is and what people are trying to embrace and what they’re trying to push back against is really fascinating to me. As someone who covers Internet culture, I often see romance. Landwehr, which is the affectionate name for where romance writers congregate on the Internet, are often very much engaging with this tension. And I think you’re right in that they would be better in just embracing the entire history of the genre rather than trying to say that it doesn’t exist. Because the thing is, it does exist. Fabio was popular for a reason. Men are super tall in romance novels for a reason. I don’t actually know if I have read a romance novel with an average sized male protagonist. And I say this as someone who has read a lot of romance novels, but what’s funny is that you have to preface every single statement you say about romance with as a fan, because if you don’t, you might catch he like YouTuber jacket with that back in February when he posted a funny and what I thought was an innocuous tweet about how men in romance novels are always big. The tweet goes like this No. One. 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. Yeah. My mind is imagining a life with Mr. Big in all his enormous ness. He is so big.

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S1: And how did romance Glanbia react to that?

S3: Rachel? Oh, my God. They did not react well. Romance landed, descended upon him with tweets like kind of following his that said no one. And then men who claim to understand the romance genre after two weeks. My arrogance is so huge, it towers over me. My hubris cannot be contained. How will all this enormous illness fit in a room? I am the big bigness of bigness. So many people, primarily white women, I must say, raved against him. They felt as if he was attacking their work, attacking their livelihood, attacking this thing that they enjoy. When what happened is Jack Edwards is a YouTuber who was exploring a new genre. He had read a lot of romance novels and was picking up on what is a very common trope. There’s this very strange defensiveness and gatekeeping aspect of the romance community where only certain people were really allowed to comment on it and everything traces back to sexism, which. Yes. The industry has been historically maligned. Yes, there’s a lot of shame involving reading romance. Yes, a lot of people are shamed for reading romance. However, romance is $1,000,000,000 industry at this point. You are not oppressed for reading romance or writing it. In fact, you are most likely rich.

S1: You hear that a lot in defenses of reading romance. You hear two things. And they’re not mutually exclusive. But it is odd to hear them in the same breath. You hear that romance is $1,000,000,000 industry and therefore, you know, deserves to be taken seriously. And then you also hear that it is an industry that is by women and for women, the implication being that it is somehow precious and special and needs to be treated as such. You can’t have it both ways, right? Billion dollar industries are for everyone. They are made fun of and they can take it. Things that are precious and by women and for women are great. But we kind of all have that one thing that is precious to us, and this is not exclusive to romance by any means. It’s a symptom of being too online. When you have fans of something who care about it deeply and that thing has been made fun of and then it goes mainstream, you get these extreme reactions and you see that a lot with like superhero movies and comics nerds. It’s definitely not specific to romance, Lynda. It’s almost like a headline you’d find in Redux dress, right? Like Equality Win. This female fandom is just as toxic as the male one.

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S3: That that’s what’s actually feminist. I mean, you’re exactly right. In comparing it to comic books culture, it is eternally fascinating to me that people feel as if they’re somehow marginalized for enjoying Marvel movies when Marvel basically owns the entirety of mass media at this point. Disney owns everything. You are now the mainstream. You are being catered to anybody who wants anything that’s not a superhero movie is in fact now kind of marginalized because it’s so hard to find anything that is as financially supported as this billion dollar superhero industry. And it’s the same environment where, yes, there is the kind of historical treatment of romance, and it’s worth talking about the ways in which women’s desire is marginalized and the way that it is made fun of. But the actual industry as it currently exists, it’s not niche anymore. And also framing romance. The entire industry as under attack doesn’t give room to actually consider the ways in which different authors, subsets or different communities within the romance industry or within the romance community are in fact marginalized like disabled writers or queer writers or writers who don’t want to write about men who are not large. Writers who want to write about bodies that look different.

S1: Justice for the short kings.

S3: Justice for the short kings. Justice for the fat women. Like those are what we actually need to be worrying about. And Jack Edwards pointed out something that is very important, which is that there’s a very specific way that people look in romance novels. And it’s really funny to me that women, primarily women came after him for this, because if there’s anything that women should understand, it’s body ideals that are not realistic.

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S1: I think as Bridgerton and other adaptations like it continue to push romance even further out of its niche category, you will see a widening of the audience, and it’ll be interesting to see how romance Linea reacts to that. As you know, outsiders essentially come in to the genre and begin commenting on some of the rigid gender roles that maybe we don’t notice because we’ve been reading them for so long. And I think that it can only be a good thing to see more diversity within the community and to shine more light on authors who do fit those marginalized identities. Right. You know, as much as it’s been dominated for a long time by straight couples and white women, you do have some amazing queer authors out there who are doing a lot of work to change that. Kat Sebastian. Cindy Rizzo, who writes Lesbian Romance. Alissa Cole is writing Women Loving Women Romance. There is so much out there to choose from. And I think that as the audience expands, the options will expand as well. We’re going to take a break here. But if you want to hear more from Rachel and myself on another topic, check out our Weaves Plus segment is this feminist where today we’re debating whether corsets, yes, corsets or feminist.

S3: And please consider supporting the show by joining Slate. Plus, members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcasts and bonus content of shows just like this one. To learn more, go to Slate.com, slash the waves plus.

S1: Bridgerton.

S4: All is fair in love and war.

S2: Mr. Daphne Bridgerton.

S1: You have no idea what it is to have one his entire life reduced to a single moment.

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S4: The time has come for the social season.

S3: Tighter to breathe, Mama.

S4: My name is Lady Whistledown. You do not know me, but I know you.

S1: The series of romance novels by author Julia Quinn follows the eight Bridgerton siblings who are conveniently named in alphabetical order as they each find love in Regency, England. Netflix and Shonda Rhimes have brought a lush adaptation of the books to Netflix currently in season two. Each book in the series and on the show follows a different romance trope, which is very fun. The first had a fake relationship storyline in which the two leads are only pretending to be a couple. But of course they fall in love. And the second is an enemies to lovers storyline.

S3: You know how much I love in a means to lovers storyline.

S1: I know you do.

S3: Netflix’s Bridgerton makes a lot of changes to the books, but perhaps the biggest one is adding a new character, Queen Charlotte, who was a real historical monarch who actually lived. She was German but married King George, the third of England. And there’s been a lot of speculation about whether she was actually black through her Portuguese ancestry. There’s actually really no real compelling evidence that that was the case, and it’s something we will probably never know for sure. But on Bridgerton, Queen Charlotte is played by a black actress Gold Rush about.

S1: It’s not simply colorblind casting either, because in the books the bridgerton’s are all white. Everyone in their society is white. But the show creates a canonical explanation for casting people of colour as members of the aristocracy in Regency England. And it all goes back to Queen Charlotte. Basically, as the first season explained, the power of Charlotte and George’s love was enough to solve racism, and Charlotte was allowed to grant titles and land to other people of colour. It’s that choice.

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S3: Yeah, yeah. That’s how racism works.

S1: On the one hand, I get it, though. You’re casting this huge ensemble. It’s adapted from a beloved series of romance books. It’s probably going to be huge. And in the Year of our Lord 2022, you don’t want to have an all white cast. Right? So you have two options. You cast the roles colorblind like Armando Iannucci is recent adaptation of David Copperfield, which stars Dev Patel and has just like blended families with zero explanation. A black woman can play the mother of a white son and no one blinks an eye and there’s no acknowledgment of race. Or you can go the route that Bridgerton chose, which is to explain, however clumsily, so that the audience knows this was not an accident. But it has proven pretty controversial and created some fucked up dynamics.

S3: Yeah, because the kind of central issue is that they wanted to make it clear they weren’t being colorblind, but they only did that in the kind of set up and didn’t think about the ways that race might change the portrayal of a character. We’re going to be discussing some spoilers for season one in Bridgerton, which at this point is not a spoiler. But if you don’t want to hear it, you can turn it off. In the first season, the Duke, the titular duke and the Duke and I is black. His paramour is a white woman. And at one point there is a duel over her honor, which leads to her brother, basically saying that he will kill this black man over loving a white woman, which I don’t know, man has some historical resonances that perhaps should be addressed. Later on, there’s a scene in which basically a lot of people considered sexual assault in that Daphne, who was the main character thus far, has been having sex with her husband, Simon, and like he pulls out because he doesn’t want a child. She basically, without his consent, doesn’t allow him to pull out. And watching a white woman do that to a black man was raised some concerns for a lot of people. What’s also interesting is that it’s a society without racism, but sexism is very much still present, which if love can solve racism, why can it not also solve sexism? Like, I have a lot of questions. Also the intersection of, you know, race and gender. Also importantly, even if there’s no racism in England, does colonialism still happen? We are firmly in the antebellum period in America. Do the black characters simply not care? There’s not a lot of internal logic to the show because they kind of try to explain it all and this big love will fix anything way. But what’s funny is I didn’t. That’s not even the main problem I had with the first season.

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S1: Tell me more. What is your main problem?

S3: I don’t actually need the internal logic of a show to cohere. Sometimes it’s vibes. I’m fine with the show that’s coasting on vibes. What really bothered me in the first season was how much they changed Daphne’s character, who’s the main woman from the books, which kind of made the first season unwatchable for me. I did not actually finish it because in the books the storyline is that Daphne is the oldest daughter, the Bridgerton family, and therefore the first to be married. But she’s kind of plain she’s not, you know, the belle of the ball. And so her fake relationship with Simon is to make her more desirable to other men. That’s literally only a reason. That’s not how it works. And in Bridgerton this show in Bridgerton. I won’t be honest. I don’t actually know what the point was of their fake relationship, and I don’t actually want to know.

S1: I’m going to tell you anyway on this show. The point is that Daphne’s older brother is overprotective. And so even though that she’s so beautiful and has so many suitors, he is driving them all away. You’re right, though, that, you know, while you and I may be able to relate to being so hot and so many suitors fighting over us, she’s not the most relatable heroine for most. The show is full of these deviations from the book. Some successful, some less successful. One that I laugh at every single time is some clumsy attempts to really make the show Capital F Feminist. The new season involves Louise Bridgerton, who is one of the other sisters reading Mary Wollstonecraft and quoting from her. And pretty much every line of dialogue she has is just like between her bangs and her dialogue, she she really needs that Tumblr account because she is just a walking like generic feminism, quote generator in ways that, you know, we don’t really need. I wish the show would focus more on being feminist than looking feminist or sounding feminist.

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S3: I mean, it’s again, this kind of defensive posture that a lot of romance has where they feel the need to overtly say, we are feminists, we believe in the rights of women, where it’s kind of like the lady doth protest too much, man, show it, don’t say it. But I will say and let me know if you agree or disagree. I think that the second season kind of fixed the main issue of the first for me, which is the first season had no chemistry and perhaps I know I know too much sex, which is crazy for me to say as a romance, but I just didn’t buy that the leaf had chemistry. And I think there’s this weird idea in Hollywood that two hot people staring at each other counts as chemistry when it’s not. I don’t, actually. It’s kind of like watching two Barbie dolls kiss, and that just doesn’t do it for me. I will say I have to have to reveal my priors. I’m biased towards an enemies lovers plotline, which is what the second season is about. But I also think it just builds up the chemistry so much better than one with a fake relationship, or at least the way the fake relationship was portrayed in the first season. Because you actually have time to see what drives them apart and what brings them together. You actually get to see what their motivations are. Also, Kate Sharma, the heroine of the second season, is just so much more likable than Daphne is.

S1: I cannot wait for Netflix to make a show about two Barbie dolls kissing it, and then the credit comes out. Created by Rachel Hampton.

S3: I mean, Netflix’s Get at me.

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S1: As for season two of Bridgerton, I did think that the chemistry was a lot stronger. I also think the racial dynamics were a little less weird than in the first season. The one major difference between the books and the show is that the love interest this season was in the books named Kate Sheffield on the show. She is Kate Sharma and her family is has come to London from India to find a match for her sister, Edwina. The family is you know, they fled England to go to India so that her mother could marry a clerk. There’s definitely an implied racism in her grandparents disapproval of the match. With that said, I think that it’s much more graceful in the first season because the Sharma’s do have a racial identity whereas. You know, in season one. SIMON And a lot of other characters of color were more incidentally, people of color rather than written specifically to be characters with history and race.

S3: Yeah, I feel like Simon in the first season was kind of black just to be black, which is what makes the entire conceit so weird, is that theoretically it’s not colored neutral casting, but in effect it ended up being at least in the first season. I do agree that in the second season it was much better in so far as I didn’t think about it so much. Although I will say the lack of discussion around the violence of British colonialism in India is another choice. It’s like the extent of their kind of racial identity. Is Kate Sharma saying she hates British tea, which fair? And then there is a traditional pre-wedding ceremony. So I appreciate it that. But I don’t think it’s quite as progressive as Bridgerton wants us to be. And this really doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but actually I very much did enjoy the second season more. I wanted to keep watching episodes, which sounds like a low bar, but when you have to watch television for work is actually a very high one. But what did you think as someone you’ve actually read more the Bridgerton books than I have, which signals to me that you enjoy this universe. What do you think about this second season and how it signals the way this show is going to keep going?

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S1: I think that the show is never going to get to a place where it is actively engaging with racism at the time period. I think it’s helpful to think of it as a fantasy universe, an alternate universe in a sci fi sense. Right. There was this one butterfly effect that has changed everything. And I think that, you know, it’s something that romance is always navigating the relationship between escapism and the harsh realities of society.

S3: I think you’re right that Bridgerton will never in a way that satisfies me or you or any kind of actual critical viewer engage with race, which is why I just want it to be a good romance. At the very least, give me what I want, which is longing stares and pinky touches and breathing into each other’s mouths because you can’t kiss. Give me that. I don’t want anything else because you’re not going to give me any actual, satisfying, critical analysis of race within Regency era because you have this weird little cop out. So I just I just feel like, you know, keep on keeping on with the enemies two lovers storyline never bring back Daphne and will be A-plus.

S1: Before we head out, we want to give some recommendations. Rachel, what are you loving right now?

S3: So I’m going to recommend more romance, more Netflix romance specifically, which is season one of Virgin River on Netflix. It is another adaptation of a romance novel. That romance novel is not great. However, the adaptation does everything that you could possibly want in a romance novel adaptation. It’s about this big city nurse who moves to a small town in California after the death of her husband. And so she’s grieving, but she’s also clearly feeling chemistry with this bar owner. And it’s about how she’s fitting into this small town with her big city ideas like CPS and actually following the chain of command in a medical scenario when.

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S1: I’m uptight, bitch.

S3: I know. But also importantly, there’s a romance storyline between her, I guess, mentor slash enemy, who is an older doctor in the town and the mayor of the town. And they’re both two older people in their fifties sixties. If you watch Hart of Dixie, you’ll recognize the older doctor’s Brick Breeland. And I actually just really love seeing a romantic storyline between somebody who wasn’t between the ages of 25 and 35.

S1: That sounds very unique. I’m going to check that out.

S3: What about you? What are you loving right now?

S1: I am going to recommend a podcast that is near and dear to my heart and that is hot and bothered, which is hosted in this season by Lauren Sandler and by my dear friend Vanessa Zoltan. Vanessa started this podcast as a podcast about first time romance novelists. It has since become something of a romance book club where they tackle giants of the genre. In fact, Rachel, you were a guest on Hot and Bothered, weren’t you?

S3: I was to talk about Twilight. The trash content that made me.

S1: They did a season on Twilight and then abandoned it part way through because they realized that reading Twilight was not worth it. But they did move on to Jane Eyre and they had a really terrific season. And their new season is about Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I’m really looking forward to reading along with them. They’re discussing chapters one and two on April 8th, so there is time for listeners to catch up. Vanessa is the person who metaphorically put the Duke and I in my hands. She is fantastic mind when it comes to romance. She treats it as sacred, which could not be more different than Rachel or myself. But she always has very, very smart things to say. And I am looking forward to listening.

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S3: I can’t wait to listen. I did love that season on Twilight, even though they very rightfully abandoned it.

S1: They did. And I will humbly recommend their first season about first time romance novelists, because I am one of them. My episode is the sexy episode. I already regret directing people to it, but if you want to hear me say penis and a lot of synonyms for penis member that’s. That’s our show this week. The Waves is produced by Shayna Roth.

S3: Shannon Palus is our editorial director with June Thomas providing oversight and moral support.

S1: If you like the show, be sure to subscribe, rate and review wherever you get your podcasts.

S3: We’d also love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.

S1: The waves will be back next week. Different hosts, different topic, same time and place. Thank you so much for being a Slate Plus member. And since you’re a member, you get this weekly segment. Is this feminist? Every week we debate whether something is feminist. And this week we’re talking about corsets. You know that thing women used to wear to squeeze in their waist and look super thin? Corsets are so widely identified with sexism, even symbolic of sexism, that it sounds funny to even suggest they might be feminist. Right?

S3: I mean, especially in the portrayal of historical fiction. Corsets are an easy shorthand or symbol for just society’s oppression of women. I mean, it’s a very neat symbol in that they’re just portrayed, as always, super restrictive, horribly uncomfortable. This incredible visual symbol of the ways that women are restricted in their movement. I’m sure you remember. Keira Knightley is iconic line in Pirates of the Caribbean, where she says something like, You like pain, try wearing a corset. Bridgerton also plays into this idea. There are characters whose corsets and into their skin are laced up so tightly they can barely even breathe. Like Kate Winslet in Titanic. And they love to play into this trope.

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S1: And it’s not just the fictional characters, because Bridgerton’s star of the second season, someone actually just was quoted in an interview saying that her corset made her miserable, the one that she had to wear to play the role. It was painful. She says she tried to eat while wearing it and she got sick. She couldn’t bend over and she thinks she even tore her shoulder because she was wearing it. So there should be an easy one, right? There’s no way corsets could possibly be feminist. Are we done? Should we get some food or something?

S3: I mean, maybe we should because we’re not wearing corsets. Except, of course, it’s not that easy. Hilary Davidson, who’s a fashion historian, recently wrote a piece for Slate. I love Harley Davidson. I interviewed her about the Bill and TED test, which is a Twitter account where she uses this incredible method to judge whether the costumes and Regency period dramas are accurate. So the Bill and Ted has basically ask, are the costumes in a historical period drama as well done as those of the extras in a 1980s time traveling teen comedy? And the answer is actually often no.

S1: Yeah, I was surprised how many serious movies don’t meet this very silly standard. If the costume designer is for this really minor thing, and Bill and Ted can get it right, there is really no excuse for these big budget movies where they’re wearing those costumes all the time. What I really like about Hillary’s approach is that she isn’t super hung up on historical accuracy. She has some pet peeves, like when women in Regency dramas have their hair half down and sort of mournfully up. But that has more to do with like our own expectations about female beauty. Because in the time period, if you were a woman who was out in society or who was married, your hair would be up. Only little girls have their hair half down. But she’s not like a Neil deGrasse Tyson level scold where she’s like, Well, actually, you can’t have a dinosaur theme park, you know, like she can suspend disbelief. She doesn’t necessarily nit pick every little thing. But tell me, we both love Hilary Davidson. What did she have to say about corsets?

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S3: Well, shockingly, Hollywood is wrong. I know.

S1: What I.

S3: Know how. I like Hollywood love for the drama. But specifically, Hillary calls this the corset myth. When real historical regency corsets were not just like medieval torture devices, they were basically like the equivalent to bras, which I’m not going to lie. I do sometimes feel are medieval torture devices at the end of the day, but they have their purposes. When we think, of course, is what we’re usually thinking of, is the kind of course that came later, which is the Victorian corset, which was actually intended to make the wearer look skinny. It was very much the Victorian consumption chic. Regency corsets were actually more about supporting your boobs. Women at the time were very much used to wearing them and they often wore them with a kind of chemise underneath so that it didn’t chafe against their skin. Hmm.

S1: That’s interesting. Yeah, I have always associated the corset with that, like super skinny Victorian waistline with a big skirt to also emphasize it. And it’s interesting, too, that women of the era were used to it the way we’re used to wearing a bra. And you can kind of understand why going from absolutely no corset, you know, putting one on for the first time could be a lot. It’s kind of like waist training, which is its own fraught subject. Right. Kim Kardashian is able to squeeze into these very narrow silhouettes, but she didn’t just suddenly start doing it. It’s something that she’s been practicing for for a long time. That’s so wild. It seems like a case where we just assume that progress is linear, when actually it seems like we’ve progressed in a lot of ways when it comes to corsets and maybe historical accuracy would actually be better than. Subjecting these actresses to basically torture devices that aren’t historically accurate and don’t really serve a purpose.

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S3: Hillary actually has some solutions for the kind of discomfort that the Leader Bridgerton was experiencing, which is making custom corsets for the leaves, which is what women in the Regency era would have had. Most pieces were custom at that time. They didn’t have fashion nova and then also giving them some time to adjust rather than just sticking them in a corset and immediately filming. Hilary writes Maybe production should think of corset wearing, like fighting or writing activities that need some practice to be effective and safe.

S1: So what do we think? Does all this mean corsets? Corsets, feminist?

S3: I mean, I don’t know if they’re feminist. I don’t know if any piece of clothing can be feminist. They all have their uses, but they definitely don’t deserve the kind of reputation they have as sexist monstrosities. And they definitely don’t deserve the kind of Hollywood shorthand they have now for just a symbol of women’s oppression. If you’re interested in learning more about the corset myth and the history of courses, I highly recommend checking out Hillary’s piece, which we will link to on our show page.

S1: Is there something you’re dying to know if it’s feminist or not? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.