Why Men Don’t Read Romance

If you’re a Christian man who reads Christian fiction, well, you’re a dying breed. Call it payback for centuries of misogynist tyranny, but finally karma has caught up. Don’t believe me? A stroll down the Religious Fiction aisle will cool your jets, bubba.

When it comes to Christian fiction, men are in the minority.

Many have undertaken to analyze the publishing industry’s tilt toward women. One of the most common explanations is simply the masculine constitution. Men aren’t wired to read. Compounding this genetic drag is the startling fact that 80% of the novels out there are romance and/or women’s fiction. EIGHTY PERCENT! So not only must men struggle against their Neanderthal nature, we must do so in an industry that doesn’t care much about us. A while back, blogger Becky Miller revisited this complicated and controversial issue in a post entitled Women in Fiction. She wrote: I heard a startling figure this last weekend—fully eighty percent of all books (not just Christian books) sold in the US are romances. Accurate or not, I think the perception is telling—we are a culture seeking relational bliss, women with men. Yes, there are coming of age stories featuring guys. Hatchet comes to mind as does Peace Like a River. And there are some action-adventure stories mostly about guys. Alton Gansky has written at least one such book. So has Ted Dekker. But for the most part, women show up in fiction, if not in the protagonist’s role, then in a role demanding her own subplot. So I wonder. Is this why men notoriously don’t read fiction? Do guys really not want to read the romance, just as they do not want to go to movies identified as romantic comedies? Do they not read because they don’t want to know what Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy were whispering about in their attic? Do they not read because they don’t care how Ann Shirley felt as a little orphan girl arriving in a home that expected a boy. Do men not read because books are too cerebral and not visceral enough? Or manly enough? And if women protagonists become tougher, more clever, stronger, and independent, will men want to read about those women more? (emphasis mine) The connection between men not reading fiction and the market’s glut of romance is, I think, perceptive. Could it be that men simply don’t read more fiction because most of the fiction out there is romance?
Personally, I have no problem following a female protagonist. None. And to answer Becky’s question, I don’t require fictional females to “become tougher, more clever, stronger, and independent.” In other words, a more “manly woman” is not attractive and definitely would not coax me into reading a straight romance novel. In fact, I’d suggest it’s women who want “manly women” (confident, strong-willed, independent, professional females) in their tales, not men. As regards romance, “getting the girl” is the stuff of men (and boys!). Heck, that’s practically all the guys at my work talk about. (Of course, what that means for them is a whole other story.) Still, men want to be with women… it’s just that that means two different things for perspective parties. Which could be part of the literary divide.
Why women’s fiction dominates the Christian fiction industry and how its presentation of romance aligns with a biblical model are questions that female Christian writers and readers should undertake. But having got my hand slapped last time I undertook to do so, allow me to offer three reasons why male readers do not read romance:

  • Men fear complicated emotions — Deal with it. We don’t process feelings, nor express them, very well. It’s the downside of our left-brainedness. So entire novels based on processing emotions scare the crap out of us!
  • Men define romance differently than women — Sorry. You’re dealing with genetics here. Candlelit dinners and fireside snuggling must lead to the bedroom… which puts Christian romance at an even greater disadvantage. Furthermore, reading about romance / sex is not satisfying to a species preoccupied with the physical, as opposed to the emotional, side of the dance.
  • Men view romance as only part of their story — Males — especially males who read — are driven by things other than just romance. Career, competition, adventure, technology, food (okay, maybe food is just my drive), are bound up in the male psyche. Romance is just a compartment in your man, not his whole world.

So in answer to Becky’s question, I agree that men don’t read fiction because most fiction is geared toward romance. I would also add that it’s not female protagonists, strong or weak, that keep men from reading romance, but a view of romance that is lop-sided and defined primarily by female novelists and their fans.
But this is just one Neanderthal’s opinion.Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is available in stores and online now. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.