Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Caridad PiÃ±eiro, the author of romance, paranormal, and suspense novels, spoke at Swarthmore on Friday. In her lecture, titled “Empowering Women and Latinas in Modern Publishing: How the ‘South Beach Chicas’ Caught More than Their Men”, PiÃ±eiro discussed the romance novel industry, public perception of romance novels, and empowering women and Latinas in the romance genre.
PiÃ±eiro questioned disparaging attitudes towards romance novels, asking the audience, “How many of you think romance novels are bad?” and “How many of you think only unintelligent women read romance novels?”
“There is an attitude that the women who read romance are not intelligent women and that romance novels are ‘trashy novels’”, she said.
PiÃ±eiro believes that these beliefs are a form of sexism.
“I think one of the reasons romance has been denigrated is chauvinism,” she said. “Things that are important to women have always been overlooked or looked down upon. There’s this attitude that if a woman reads these books, they must not be as good as books read by men. You can see the same thing in chick lit; it’s also looked down upon.”
PiÃ±eiro acknowledged that many popular romance novels do present weak women characters and happily-ever-after Cinderella stories. The best-selling “Harlequin Presents” line, for example, contains stereotypical romance novels with titles such as, “Willingly Bedded, Forcibly Wedded” and “The Spanish Prince’s Virgin Bride”.
“Quite frankly, I don’t read them,” said PiÃ±eiro, of the “Harlequin Presents” type of novel.
“I don’t read them because that’s not what I write, and because I believe in empowering women,” she said.
PiÃ±eiro believes that the image of the romance novel heroine is changing from that of a weak character to a confident and dominant woman. In her writing, PiÃ±eiro has strived to portray women and Latino culture in a positive light. In one of her early novels, PiÃ±eiro created a heroine who was a FBI agent.
“I wanted a woman who was powerful, who could kick some butt,” she said. “I didn’t want someone who had to be saved. Today’s heroines are the ones in charge; they’re in command.”
PiÃ±eiro feels that romance novels are more accessible to ordinary readers than other literature.
“I feel that romance is more malleable in changing the face of culture. It’s a viable way to reach many people. Part of what I’m doing is getting a message out,” she said.
Readers often send PiÃ±eiro responses after reading her novels. One response that she found especially touching was from a young girl in Yemen who had read a book in the “South Beach Chicas” series.
“She said that the novel gave her a view into a different life, something she wouldn’t be able to see because she’s not allowed to go out by herself,” PiÃ±eiro said.
One of PiÃ±eiro’s latest novels is a paranormal romance titled “Holiday with a Vampire”. She believes that the paranormal romance genre creates some of the strongest female characters.
“The paranormal section is one of the hottest subgenres today. You can see alpha-women [characters] who are not perfect, but they’re making their own decisions to reach the happily-ever-after that they choose. And that’s empowering women,” she said.
PiÃ±eiro told the audience, “No one should make you feel guilty for being interested in romance novels. What you expect in romances, that’s not what it’s like anymore; they reach out and explore many different topics,” she said.
“If you’re not reading romance, ask yourself, ‘Why not?’, PiÃ±eiro said. “And if you are, ask yourself why you feel guilty about it.”