Here's What The STEMinist Fiction Trend Really Means

Ali Hazelwood's debut romance novel "The Love Hypothesis" has been an undeniable hit since it was released in September of 2021, per Business Insider. Especially popular on TikTok, the book consistently appeared on The New York Times bestseller list while maintaining an over four-star rating on Goodreads (per Deadline).

Since then, Hazelwood has released a three-book novella series titled "The STEMinist Novellas," and her second full-length novel, "Love on the Brain" (per Goodreads). Each of these works centers around protagonists in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), reflecting the popularity of STEMinist fiction in the romance genre (via The Washington Post).

If you're unfamiliar, STEMinism refers to a specific strain of feminism that champions the increased presence of women in STEM fields, as explained on Medium. In terms of fiction, this means novels that feature and celebrate heroines of these fields. If you're only exposure to women in STEM is "The Big Bang Theory," then you might actually learn a lot from reading these romances.

While this trend may have garnered mainstream attention with Hazelwood's novels, it's actually been gaining traction since as early as 2017, per NPR. So, what exactly does this STEMinist trend mean? Why are these novels so popular, and what does this say about the romance genre? Should you add one to your weekend getaway reading list?

The genre is expanding to include more diverse stories

One thing that the rise of STEMinist romance reflects is the push for diverse perspectives and voices in the publishing industry. Though the industry continues to be overwhelmingly white, and there are many systematic issues yet to be addressed, recent years have shown a shift in mainstream awareness of and advocacy for diversity in published authors and stories, according to The New York Times.

STEMinist fiction reflects this push by highlighting the lives of women who are underrepresented and undervalued (via AAUW). Many women are discouraged from entering STEM fields, and those who do face many gender-based obstacles. These are plights that are shown and often overcome in STEMinist novels, increasing both representation and awareness for these real-life women.

Featuring women in STEM is not the only way that this trend highlights different perspectives, though, as additional marginalized identities are also present in these novels. For example, Courtney Milan's 2016 novel "Hold Me" features main characters working in STEM, with the heroine being a trans-Latina woman and the hero being a bisexual man of Chinese and Thai descent (per Goodreads).

"Honey Girl" by Morgan Rogers is a 2022 queer romance starring Black astronomy graduate Grace Porter (via Goodreads and The Mary Sue). Helen Hoang's 2018 novel "The Kiss Quotient" follows mathematically-gifted Stella, who is on the autism spectrum, and her Vietnamese and Swedish love interest, Michael (per Goodreads).

As mentioned, there is much work that needs to be done in publishing, but at least some diverse voices are being included in this subgenre.

Romance continues to be a genre that celebrates women

In highlighting diverse stories and underrepresented perspectives, specifically those of women in STEM, the STEMinist trend signifies how romance continues to be a genre that celebrates women.

Detailed by New York Public Library, the romance genre has had a long and often controversial history. There are real critiques to be made about some of the themes and messages present in romance novels, per FEM Magazine, especially those of the bodice-ripping era. Traditionally, mainstream romances have also been white and heteronormative, a valid flaw to point out.

Despite this, many of the critiques heralded at the romance genre are more misogynistic in nature. As The Atlantic explains, this genre has been historically disparaged for being low-brow and moralistically flawed.

In truth, romance has largely been a genre by and for women that allows them to depict their own experiences and express sexual desires. In a society that values male experiences and masculine expressions, it's easy to see why romance has garnered a negative reputation in mainstream culture.

By highlighting women in STEM, the romance genre expands to recognize the varied experiences of women. So, even if you're not personally into the STEMinist fiction trend, hopefully, you can see its value within the genre.