There is such a difference between knowing and feeling. I know I should be unashamed of my reading tastes, and yet...
I deplore the fact that being woman-like, enjoying female things, is still denigrated and considered inferior in our society. I don't believe that romance novels are, of necessity, any worse than any other genre or form of literature, and they're certainly more entertaining than most. I just wish other intelligent, generally right-thinking adults could be made to understand that, as well.
There were a few turning points in my still-incomplete evolution as a reader (and burgeoning writer) of romance. The first was finding other intelligent women who were not ashamed to admit what they read in their free-time. My best friend, a marvelous young lady with whom you are well-acquainted, a doctor-in-training and history scholar, was the first of my friends to proudly discuss romance novels, and read them in public. Now I knew that this woman was one of the most intelligent people I've ever known. EVERYONE who meets her knows that. So anyone who could question her mind just because she likes romance novels...is obviously blinded by their biases.
Another turning point was an interview on NPR with Eloisa James. I've long been an admirer of hers. Of her books and of her ability to balance being a full-time professor of English with her writing and family life. Even Caroline Bingley would be forced to admit that Eloisa James is a truly accomplished woman. And yet the (woman) interviewer on NPR was laughingly dismissive of Eloisa's writing, labelling her books "bodice rippers" despite Eloisa's refusal to accept that term. The interview was polite, but I was shocked that a woman, a journalist with as fine an institution as NPR, could so obviously style herself as superior to a woman with Eloisa's background and successes just because she writes romance.
FInally, I was lucky enough to attend a romance industry convention in April and to meet many authors of all sub-genres of romance. Established legends, popular newer writers, up-and-comers and debut authors. College-educated women, graduate degree holders and those with only a high school degree. Women with full-time jobs outside their writing, with families, women who make their living writing full-time, and younger, single women. They were an amazingly diverse group, from all over the country. One thing they all held in common, though, was their excitement about and love of books and their intelligence. These women were friendly, warm and above all, interesting to talk with...about more than just writing.
I like to think that I've put together an informal support group for myself. And that each woman I introduce to romance (most recent convert was just last year) becomes another support bolstering up my fragile but determined resolve to stop feeling guilty and start feeling proud.
Maybe we can't change people's opinions about the genre in the abstract. But if people who know us, who know we're smart and motivated and sophisticated, learn that this is what we do, maybe they'll stop and think the next time they want to dismiss an entire sector of the publishing industry, or genre of film, or type of tv show without even checking it out first. And especially if they want to pretend to understand something fundamental about the people who enjoy said cultural product.