Male vs Female Writers: No, It’s Not “Their” Fault

August 28, 2014 Uncategorized 25

LiteraryRomanceIn this blog post, I’m going to strongly disagree with this post from Brenda at Daily Mayo, so I’d like begin by saying that I think that she wrote a wonderfully provocative post and asked a great question. Although I disagree with her conclusion, I think she makes a lot of good points along the way. However, I think she also accepts some biases which it’s important for readers to challenge. She points out that women authors are taken less seriously than male authors, with everything women write often being lumped in the chick-lit category, and suggests that women authors should respond by writing less romance. I have a number of problems with that statement, so I’m just going to run through them one by one and will include some direct quotes I’m referring too.

Women Authors Are Not The Problem

“However, part of the problem is the female writers themselves.”

Talk about victim blaming! While we should all work to eliminate any gender disparity in the recognition author’s receive, this isn’t a burden to put on the authors alone. Readers should read more books by women and publishers should publish more books by women. Women authors should just keep writing good books on whatever topic they like.

Romance Is Not The Problem

“This trend [referring to female writers including romance in books of other genres] is hurting the credibility of female writers.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with female or male authors including romance and still expecting to write books with literary merit which will be valued as highly as books on any other topic. Personally, I do consider chick-lit to be of lesser literary merit, but I recognize that this is because of the way I define chick-lit. To me, chick-lit is not about beautiful prose, complex character studies, or intricate plots. I categorize a book as chick-lit if it is light, easy to read, has a female protagonist, and is generally about romance. I don’t consider this a problem with chick-lit. It’s just how I personally define the genre. However, a focus on romance certainly does not make a book chick-lit or mean that it is of lesser literary merit. Lots of beautiful books by male and female authors include romance. Many classics include romance. In fact, I think romance is a critical component of what makes some books classics, because it’s one of many facets of human nature which will always be relevant.

Perception of Literary Merit Is Not The (Whole) Problem

“Often, topics that females tend to write about are considered “lesser” than the topics that men choose to write about.”

I think most people recognize that many thrillers are a lot like chick-lit in their level of literary merit. Although there are certainly literary thrillers, just as there are literary romances, I might classify them solely as literary and not as thrillers. So, like chick-lit, the reason I consider thrillers of lesser literary value is because of how I personally categorize books. To me, thrillers are not about beautiful prose, complex character studies, or intricate plots either. I categorize a book as thriller if it is light, easy to read, has high tension, and involves mystery and/or violence. If the fact that most chick-lit books are by women is responsible for the stigma faced by female writers, male writers should face the same stigma for their over-representation among thriller writers but this is not the case.

Sexism Is The Problem

I’d like to finish by saying again that even though I strongly disagreed with Brenda’s post, I think she’s doing an amazing thing by highlighting this issue. Personally I believe the issue is rooted in conscious and even more insidious unconscious biases many people have against women writers. However, I agree with her completely that women write just as well as men but are under-represented among successful authors and that this is an issue bloggers should be talking about. Hopefully these conversations will help lead to change.

25 Responses to “Male vs Female Writers: No, It’s Not “Their” Fault”

  1. Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

    Very well said! Some genres are “lighter” than others and that is fine, but what is bad is when more female writers get lumped into the “chick lit” category than they should. As much as I really don’t like the term, chick lit is a useful categorization that helps readers find books that will appeal to them, but not all female writers write chick lit and not all books with romance by a female should be considered chick lit. I am the very last person to say that one genre has more value than another — the book world is a wonderfully vast place full of all different kinds of books for all different kinds of readers, but it is unfair to lump all women writers (or all men writers!) into one category, especially if it is done so with assumption that it is because what they are doing is somehow *lesser*. Different writers of different genres do different things, there is not one holy grail of *good* or *worthy* writing, in my opinion!

    • DoingDewey

      Exactly! I agree completely. There’s nothing wrong with a book being lighter and having a category for that is helpful, but it’s not alright for books to be misclassified and then dismissed as a result.

  2. Charlotte @ Thoughts and Pens

    Ugh, what?! You’ve made some very valid points here, Katie. Perhaps, I am really limited to my own world because I haven’t felt that this issue is still around. I thought that biases against women writers have already been eliminated or at least put to a minimum level because the most famous author these days is a female. Or is that naive thinking?

    Oh this is really crazy. I am not an English or literature major so I can’t definitely say the necessary elements that make a book something of literary value. But it really shocked me that romance could actually decrease the book’s literary value. Where in the world did that come from? How about Jane Austen’s or Emily Bronte’s books? Don’t they deserve literary merit because the books contain romance?

    I agree with what you said about women writers to just keep on writing quality books on whatever topic they like. It seems unfair that even with our continuous efforts, even with the increasing number of female authors, the literary world is still a patriarchal society.

    I just made a quick survey on my goodreads shelf and so thankful that most of the books that I’ve read are written by female authors.

    Female authors, just keep the books coming.

    What an enlightening post, Katie! <333

    • DoingDewey

      I know I’m about twice as likely to read a book by a female author, based on my reading stats, so it’s not a problem for me except maybe in the reverse direction. Reading this article, I also wondered how much of a general problem this is and I think one indicator that it is actually a problem is the VIDA Count, showing that women are still reviewed less than men in many literary journals: http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2013/

      I agree that it doesn’t make sense, but I’ve heard this opinion expressed before. I think the romance in Austen’s and Bronte’s work is actually a critical part of why they’re books have become classics.

      Thanks Charlotte! I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on the topic 🙂

  3. Geoff W

    Well reasoned and written! As long as the conversations are had, there’s more of a chance of movement and progress, regardless of which side of the argument you are 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I’ve noticed that I actually read far more books by female authors than by male authors, but it’s not something I do intentionally. I do think there may still be something of a social bias against female authors given this past year’s VIDA results (http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2013/) but it seems to be getting better.

  4. Jennine G.

    I just read what interests me. I’m not going to read a book that doesn’t sound/look interesting. The thing that makes me want to read something different than usual is recommendations from trusted reading friends.

    And I agree any author should just write what they’re good at! I read a large number of women writers, both literary and romance, so I guess I don’t see this as a problem as much. Good posts to make you think.

    • DoingDewey

      I also just read what interests me, although I do try to push myself out of my comfort zone some too. I’ve noticed lately that requesting ARCs makes me more likely to stay within my preferred genres since I don’t always feel it’s fair to accept an ARC for something I’m less likely to give a positive review. Definitely something I need to work on! When stepping out of my comfort zone, I love having friends suggestion to rely on.

  5. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    Well said! The original article really frustrated me, with its implication that women need to change what they write in order to be taken seriously. Like you said, romance/chick lit are on a pretty even par with thrillers, yet they way they are perceived is so different. Both genres are light, easy to read, and plot-based, yet chick lit is seen is frivolous and fluffy, while thrillers are much more accepted. Many women read thrillers, but most men wouldn’t be caught dead reading chick lit. (Which I think is a reason to do away with all the pink hyperfeminine covers; who says a man wouldn’t be interested in reading a book about women, if it weren’t for the cover? And who says all women who enjoy those types of stories want such frilly covers?)

    Similarly, chick lit authors aren’t taken seriously, but thriller writers are. It’s a real problem, and the writers aren’t the ones to change. In general, our society views the interests of women as less important than the interests of men, and THAT is what needs to change.

    Thanks for the great discussion!

    • Jennine G.

      Reading your reply Leah about guys not reading chick lit but girls read thrillers…I thought about how my husband loves chick flicks (movies), so it might really be the marketing of chick lit, covers and such, that turns guys away.

    • DoingDewey

      I agree, the marketing of chick lit is probably a big part of the reason women are more willing to pick up thrillers than men are are willing to pick up chick lit. On the bright side, I think there is less stigma associated with women doing things perceived as masculine than they used to be, whether that be entering traditionally male fields or reading traditionally male genres. Unfortunately, I think there is still a lot of stigma associated with men doing things perceived as feminine, a phenomenon probably rooted in the fact that what was feminine used to be considered lesser. So that could be part of the disparity as well .Your point about women’s interests being taken less seriously may be part of the same phenomenon.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    Wonderful post Katie! It’s sad that this is even an issue, but you are totally right that it’s more the reader’s perception than a problem with the authors. We just need to realize there is no difference in male or female writers – it’s only what we are looking for in a book that makes the difference. People should write what they want to write – men or women, and hopefully true “merit” will come from how the book holds up over time.

  7. Shannon @ River City Reading

    Totally agree with you that there’s a ton of victim blaming going on there, Katie. Maybe when looking at sci-fi and thriller novels there is more “romance” in female authored novels, but just taking a glace at my (mostly) literary fiction shelves? I can’t see a trend. Both male and female litfic authors love to write about failed marriages and relationships in equal measure. And even if there is more of one thing in some books than others, don’t we need that diversity to mix things up?

    • DoingDewey

      I haven’t noticed a difference between male and female authors’ inclusion of romance, but my sample might be skewed since I do like to pick up relationship driven books. I agree that either way, it’s nice for readers to have a diversity of books to choose from and that includes having books in non-romance genres with and without romantic subplots 🙂

  8. tanya (52 books or bust)

    Such a great post. I saw Sarah Waters speak last week and she was addressing some of these issues. If asked she would describe her latest novel as both literary and a romance. And I’m almost done it and I totally agree.

    • DoingDewey

      Oh, that’s fun! I love getting to hear about issues I think about as a blogger from other perspectives. One interesting article I found while doing some further reading on the topic was from the editorial director at Tor UK talked about how she’d love to promote women authors but that women are underrepresented in the submissions they receive for some genres: http://torbooks.co.uk/2013/07/10/sexism-in-genre-publishing-a-publishers-perspective/ I’m not surprised by that, but it’s something I don’t usually think about. It’s just so easy to say that publishers should publish more women when in reality there are wider social issues at play.

  9. Lindsey

    I think you make some good points. We call certain novels literary because they are well-written and give us new insight into life. Certainly romance and love are important parts of life and I think we do a disservice to writers and readers when we criticize a book simply because it has romance as part of the plot!

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