Women Writers and Male Readers

Colleen at Chasing Ray pointed me to an interesting article entitled “Still not an equal partnership” at The Times Online.  The gist of the article is that despite the fact that women seem to read more than men, men seem to be read more than women.

Gender as a subject fascinates me, mostly because I don’t understand it.  The article speaks for itself.  I don’t have much to add to it.  It addresses primarily literary fiction, and I do find that aspect interesting.  What about genre fiction?  I’d be interested in seeing the numbers on that.  One of the “problems” with fiction written by women is that its subjects – motherhood, domestic life, relationships – don’t interest men.  But again – what about genre fiction?  Sprawling adventure stories with women as writers or protagonists?  How is that the same or different?  Stories about motherhood, domestic life, and relationships don’t really interest me, and when I write, I don’t write about motherhood or domestic life.  I do write about relationships, because loner characters can’t take a story very far.  Women are more willing to identify with a male protagonist in any form of media – books, television, video games – than men are to identify with a female protagonist.  What’s that about?  I think it goes back to the unfortunate devaluing of the feminine.  I feel like most of the major feminist problems – suffrage, the glass ceiling, harassment – have made great strides, and that the battlefront of current feminism is one of the mind and the arts.

I find this article’s comments especially fascinating.  They are, as far as I can tell, all from men who are defending either their disinterest in literature written by women or saying the article is outright wrong.

This quote does upset me:

“Middlebrow writing by women is full of feminist garbage. A man need only read a couple to get the flavour. Writing by men is much more varied.”

Firstly, I’m not sure what “middlebrow writing” means.  Secondly, declaring writing by men to be more varied is not saying anything particularly new or startling.  Unfortunately, men have a much longer literary tradition than women do, with rare exceptions; no one need remind me that Sappho was a woman.  When you’ve had more time to do the work, of course the work will be more varied.

In addition to being curious about this with respect to genre vs. literary works, I’m also interested in children’s and young adult literature and how gender comes into play there.  See my Weekend Wondering a couple weeks back.  How much do boys read?  When they read, who are the authors?  Who are the protagonists?  I don’t ask about girls because I feel like I know more about them, having been one.  Perhaps next year I will take some informal polls of my students to find out if they read and what they read.

Do you know boys?  Do you know what they’re reading?  Would you be willing to share that information?

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  1. My brother is 18 years old, and he reads all varieties of books. I daresay he does prefer male protagonists, but I don’t blame him, because I prefer female protagonists (but certainly do NOT limit my reading to that – male protagonists can be wonderful, too; I just relate to girls better). However he has no qualms about reading and talking to friends about books with female protagonists, too. For instance, he recently read DRAGON’S KEEP by Janet Lee Carey, which he enjoyed, although not as much as I did. Whereas he LOVED Carey’s BEAST OF NOOR, with equal parts male and female protagonists, but which I did not love so much.

    I’m not sure this really helps to answer your question, but I thought I’d pitch in anyway. Even if girls might prefer reading about girls, and boys about boys, I do not believe either sex necessarily limits themselves to what they read because of the book’s main character’s gender.

    I have loved books with boys featured prominently, my brother has loved books with girls feature prominently. And that’s that.

  2. Wow. You have to love the comment “Whereas the best writers tend to wrestle against convention, to push out, innovate, conquer and claim new territory (think of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina), women tend to nest in, and speak from the conventions of their time (Jane Erye, Middlemarch, current chick-lit)”. It just sort of leaves me mentally spluttering and not knowing what to say first.

    I think you’re right in that it’s a sign that the feminine is devalued. And I suspect genre might be different, but maybe that’s just because a lot of successful female fantast, SF or crime writers are springing to mind.

    I don’t know any young males at the moment so can’t answer your question, sorry 🙂 I just wanted to say thanks for the interesting link! I missed it in Colleen’s post.

  3. Where was this article when I wrote my paper on female writers as outsiders?

    I approached this issue a bit with :

    But this’ll make me think of it more. This is a huge topic of interest with me.

    We’re still discovering women’s literature. Julian of Norwich wrote that is God is Woman but we only discovered her manuscripts years and years later. Who knows what women’s works still are undiscovered? Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl wasn’t validated as a biogaphy until the NINTEEN EIGHTIES, despite being written in 1861.

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