Wednesday, December 21, 2016

[Let's Talk]: Romance Survey Results (Part 1)



If you recall, in September I mentioned my senior project and the survey I posted for it. I've since turned in that project, and now that I have a bit more time, I'm going to be discussing the results here on the blog as promised. I'm not sure yet how many parts this discussion will be -- 4 or 5, at least? -- but I'll link to all the previous posts each time I post a new one.


These posts will be a combination of the data results from the survey itself, some of the quotes from the survey answers, and my own thoughts and observations. Parts of it will be taken directly from the giant ethnography I turned in, but I'll also be adding more to it in these posts, often in a much more casual way than what's in the paper. :)


I hope that these posts will start some great discussions within our community. But at the very least, I hope you find this series interesting rather than boring.



Let's start with the first section of the survey, which asked how a participant identifies themselves in regards to gender, sexual orientation, and race/ethnicity.




These three questions were asked in order to get a sense of the composition of participants in this sample. Most of us tend to picture the average romance reader as a white heterosexual woman. (And cis, too, though I'll speak more on this in just a bit.)


And, based on my results at least, that would be correct in terms of percentages.


However, that is NOT to say that *ONLY* white (cis) heterosexual women read romance. That's not what I'm saying at all, nor do I believe it. The data I'm sharing here is based directly on the survey responses I received.


Romance readers are very diverse in their identity and their experiences, in where they live and what they like. It's a large part of what makes this community what it is. Yes, there are issues with diversity and representation, which will be discussed throughout this series of posts. But for the most part? We all bring our own things to the romancelandia table, and I love that about our community.


Keep in mind, not just for this post but in the subsequent posts as well, that the results I'm sharing are based on the 227 romance readers that filled out my survey. That's only a teeny-tiny fraction of the community. And even though I had the survey link shared far outside my own list of followers, by no means does it show the response of a reader from every walk of life.


But it's a starting place, at least.


Here's the breakdown from the first section of the survey results. For these three questions, I let the answers speak for themselves. By that, I mean I didn't try to group responses too much. For example: If you use a specific label for your sexual orientation, I'm certainly not the one to decide it should be grouped with a different label for simplicity sake.



Gender:


Gender
Percentage of Participants
Number of Participants
Female/woman
97.36%
221
Male/man
0.88%
2
Genderqueer
0.44%
1
Gender fluid
0.44%
1
Nonbinary
0.88%
2


For this question, I did not ask whether a person was cis or trans. I simply wished to know how they identified themselves, regardless of whether that identifier is the same as the one on their birth certificate or not. A few specified that they were cis women anyway, and, through their responses to later questions, I do know that a few participants were trans.


I have a feeling that if I had asked specifically for cis/trans on this question, the vast majority would have answered cis. I wish that wasn't the case.


I know there are more than just a handful of romance readers who are men, genderqueer, gender fluid, or nonbinary, so I can't really say how accurate this data is when compared to the entire romance community. I imagine my percentages are a bit lower than reality though.


Sexual Orientation:


Sexual Orientation
Percentage of Participants
Number of Participants
Heterosexual/Straight
70.49%
160
Bi
7.93%
18
Unsure/Questioning
2.64%
6
Queer
2.20%
5
Pan
2.20%
5
Prefer not to answer
2.20%
5
Ace
1.76%
4
Gray ace
1.32%
3
Lesbian
0.88%
2
“Het mostly”
0.88%
2
Ace biromantic
0.44%
1
Arom ace bi
0.44%
1
Ace bi
0.44%
1
Bi/pan and demi
0.44%
1
Demi
0.44%
1
Married straight (bi tendencies)
0.44%
1
Mostly straight/fluid
0.44%
1
Mostly straight/slightly bi
0.44%
1
Pan/bi
0.44%
1
Queer/bi
0.44%
1
Straight (probably)
0.44%
1
Unsure, generally het
0.44%
1
Cis *
2.20%
5


Again, my data percentages are very likely lower than what the romance community as a whole looks like.


I loved seeing so much variety in how participants identify themselves. It's why I'm glad I left a lot of these questions open, rather than giving answer choices that would be limiting.


But I wish the percentages were not so skewed so much towards het readers. I think, or maybe it's just my own hope, that we're moving towards being more inclusive and welcoming as a community, but whether we are or not, it's clear that we still have a ways to go.


Romance novels are not just for het women about het couples. The genre, industry, and community needs to better reflect this.


The 5 participants who wrote "cis" as their answer were, I would assume, thinking of "cishet" but then had a mix up with the term for this question. However, I didn't want to assume that they actually meant het, so I put the answers in a separate category instead.



Race/ethnicity:


Race/Ethnicity
Percentage of Participants
Number of Participants
White/Caucasian
76.21%
173
Black/African American
6.17%
14
Asian
2.64%
6
Hispanic
1.32%
3
Latina
0.88%
2
South Asian
0.88%
2
White Hispanic
0.88%
2
Asian Biracial
0.44%
1
Australian
0.44%
1
Puerto Rican/White (biracial)
0.44%
1
Black/Hispanic/White
0.44%
1
Caucasian/Asian (biracial)
0.44%
1
Chinese
0.44%
1
European
0.44%
1
Hispanic/Caucasian (biracial)
0.44%
1
Irish/Sauk-Fox
0.44%
1
Jamaican
0.44%
1
Jewish
0.44%
1
Latin American
0.44%
1
Latinx
0.44%
1
Mexican/Latina
0.44%
1
Mixed African and Caucasian
0.44%
1
Mixed Latino and Caucasian
0.44%
1
Mixed POC
0.44%
1
Multiracial
0.44%
1
Spanish (nationality)/white
0.44%
1
White (or Jewish?)
0.44%
1
White/Latina
0.44%
1
White/Native American
0.44%
1
Human
0.44%
1
I don’t know
0.44%
1
I don’t know, Latino?
0.44%
1
I prefer not to answer
0.44%
1


This data set shows why there are so many problems with lack of diversity, equality, and representation in the community (much like the gender and sexual orientation questions, actually). The overwhelming answer was white, with only a handful--in comparison!--of POC from various racial/ethnic backgrounds.


When most of the readers are white, is it any wonder that it's hard, if not impossible, for other voices to be heard in the community? And it goes beyond just the readers: most of publishing is white as well


Own voices aren’t being heard like they should, and far too often publishers will buy a “diverse” romance from a white writer (or from a straight writer) rather than signing a writer of color or a queer writer. Representation in romance, much like it is in media in general, is very much lacking, and what’s there isn’t always positive. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s a problem that’s brought up weekly, if not daily, within the community.


So why haven’t things changed?


There’s a few reasons for this. One, the publishing industry itself needs to be more diverse. Nearly all editors, agents, publicists, etc., are white cishet women. The problem starts at the ground level. If the industry isn’t diverse, how can the authors and books being acquired be truly diverse? Second, there are those white/cishet readers and authors who push back when the call for diversity goes up; some are outright racist/homophobic, others more subtly so. Both contribute to the problem.


Until the publishing industry becomes more diverse and hires outside of the majority group and until we as a community discuss these issues frankly rather than tip-toeing around them for fear of being too “politically correct”, this horrible cycle of a white-washed, straight-cis romancelandia—both within the books and the community itself—will continue. Romances are for everyone and every person, no matter how they identify or what their experiences have been like, should be able to find themselves easily within a romance novel. There is nothing more powerful than being able to connect with a book or character on that level, and right now that’s really only possible if you are white, cishet and Christian. (I’d even add “living in the United States”, because that’s also an overwhelming focus for where most romances are set—not including historical romances, which have their own location bias for England/Scotland/Ireland.).


This. Is. Not. Right.


It shouldn't be so difficult for a reader to find themselves in the books they love.


I try my best to do what I can, to support those who need it most, to speak up when I can lend my voice, to step back when it's my turn to listen instead. I'm not perfect, nor do I claim to be. I fuck up, I say the wrong thing sometimes. But here's the key: if I fuck up, I apologize, yes, but I also 1) own up to my mistake and 2) LEARN FROM IT. And no, I don't want a goddamn cookie for doing this. Supporting the call for diversity isn't something to be applauded for, it's not the "cool" thing to do. It's called being a decent human being, full stop, and it should be the default, not the exception.



It’s said every day on Twitter and I’ll echo it here again: We need diverse books.



In later questions, participants do bring up diversity (or lack thereof, to be more precise), so this topic will be visited again in future post(s).


Look for the second part of the Romance Survey Results next week!



Enjoy!



Until Next Time,
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