This weekend I came across a post on Reddit discussing the Reverse Harem genre and how what we call it may or may not have unanticipated connotations. I have been thinking a lot about how the Reverse Harem genre has evolved since I first became interested in it and, more recently, how requests on the blog have evolved. After researching this topic off and on, I decided it was time I actually took a stab at articulating my thoughts.
In my university days, I had a fabulous professor who focussed heavily on the etymology of words, word choice, and their deliberate use in literature. Etymology looks at the root of a word, with a focus on its evolution and usage over time.
When researching the Reverse Harem genre, I focused on the word harem and its usage and evolution over time. The best historical summary can be found in Urban Dictionary (of all places!). Road Gypsy explains the history of the word harem, from its Turkish origins, meaning dwelling place of women, to a comparative example in ancient Greece and Persia.
The English language ‘borrowed’ the term harem in the mid-1700s, making the distinction that a harem meant what we traditionally understand today, a group of females in a sexual relationship with a single male. Many were considered exploitative, and the English language included enslaved people and forced lovers in its definition.
The English definition of harem didn’t change much until the 1970s when it was picked up in Japanese anime. In anime, a harem typically means a group of women with the sole interest in creating a romantic & sexual relationship with the story’s male lead. Sometimes the male lead ends up with more than one woman; sometimes, the male lead chooses a single woman from the harem to complete the story.
Many articles extrapolate the harmful side effects of the anime harem and its generalization and characterization of women. This isn’t a genre I read, and as I am unfamiliar, I cannot comment.
The anime usage of the term harem gets us closer to our current understanding of the Reverse Harem genre, but we aren’t quite there yet. We are beginning to see menage novels focusing on women with multiple men in a committed relationship with her. According to Tanjeem from Book Riot, the heyday of these books was pre-2016. These books began focusing on numerous men with a single woman romantic partner, and they fell under the ubiquitous menage title.
I went in search of the first titles that were launched as ‘reverse harem’ books. Interestingly, the first few books do not fit the sub-genre mentioned above in menage literature. The first two books I found released under the ‘reverse harem’ nomenclature were Accidentally Wolf by Erin R Flynn, published on September 14, 2012, and Forever & The Power of One by Eve Newton on October 4, 2012. Both books contained polyamorous relationships, meaning the female main character did not have a single relationship with each ‘harem’ member. Instead, the groups had relationships with each other and the FMC.
Introductions: The Ghost Bird Series #1 by C. L. Stone, published December 23, 2012, is the book that appears to have kicked off the reverse harem genre. The series focuses on a single female with a group of men interested in a romantic relationship only with her.
Great, so what actually is a Reverse Harem??
With all this confusion brewing and me over here wondering if the term “reverse harem” is problematic, I give you the official Naughty Book Box definition list. And a poll, because I am seriously wondering if the readers of this blog have an issue with the term “Reverse Harem.” What do we call ‘reverse harem’ books if we do?
In a poll in July of this year, I asked you what type of reverse harems you liked the most. The definitions below are in the order of the kinds of Reverse Harems you indicated you preferred.
Naughty Book Box Definitions
Male Harem: Female main character with an all male cast of lovers/partners. The focus is on the female main character, and there may be male-on-male action, but not a fully-fledged relationship between partners; the focus and relationship remain with the FMC.
Polyamory: Committed relationship between a set and agreed upon group of people. Any gender/relationship type, as long as it is only between the agreed-upon group/people.
Mixed Harem: Female main character with lovers/partners of any gender. The focus is entirely on the female main character.
Polyandrous Male Harem: Female main character with an all male cast of lovers/partners. There is no sexual interaction between anyone except the FMC and her individual male partners.
- Road, G. (2010, February 2). Harem. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Harem
- Tanjeem, N. (2018, December 11). Reverse harem romance novels: A beginner’s guide. BOOK RIOT. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://bookriot.com/reverse-harem-romance-novels/