Among the suggested possible topics are 'Rereading the Romance', 'Romantic Comedy' and 'Genre Fiction'. The deadline for proposals for papers and panels is 1 December 2006 (more details here).
It looks as though some of us on the RomanceScholar listserv may be able to attend, and I thought I'd post a note here too, to notify others who are not on the listserv. I'm still busy trying to think of a possible angle to take on the topic of the romance genre and feminism (though I have a few ideas).
There are plenty of scholars of the romance genre who think it's feminist. Kay Mussell certainly thinks so:
I don't know how you can read many romances today as anything but feminist. To take just one issue: Heroes and heroines meet each other on a much more equal playing field. Heroes don't always dominate and heroines are frequently right. Heroines have expertise and aren't afraid to show it. Heroes aren't the fount of all wisdom and they actually have things to learn from heroines. This is true of both contemporary and historical romances. I'm not trying to argue that all romances before the 1990s featured unequal relationships or that all romances today are based on equality. That's clearly not the case. But in general heroines today have a lot more independence and authority than their counterparts did in earlier romances. I think that's clear evidence of the influence of feminism on romances and of the ability of romance novels to address contemporary concerns that women share.There are also plenty of romance authors who would consider themselves to be feminists, prominent among whom is Jennifer Crusie, who writes that:
If romance novels are a guilty pleasure, then romantic comedies are the designer chocolates of literature, rich, fun and seemingly without nutritional value. But underneath that sugar coating is one of the most feminist forms of literature ever devised. Jane Austen knew it two hundred years ago and writers like Susan Elizabeth Phillips know it today: romantic comedy empowers women and makes their world a better place.(Crusie: Romantic Comedy)She does qualify this somewhat elsewhere, noting that 'not all romance novels are feminist' (Crusie: You Go, Romance Writer). [For an interesting short discussion of romance and feminism, see this blog post which includes a link to a discussion specifically on Crusie, Bet Me and feminism).
What do you think? Are all romances feminist? Or are only some of them feminist? And what sort of feminism are we measuring the novels against anyway? Do you want them to be feminist or would you rather they weren't? One of the arguments against romance being feminist is that it's heterosexist (though there are some gay and lesbian romances) and suggests that what women need is marriage. But is this actually true? Does the genre tell readers that all women will find their ultimate fulfillment in a monogamous romantic relationship, or does it simply focus on those who do, leaving open the possibility that other women (whose stories might be told in other types of book, including women's fiction and chick lit) may not want it?