Recently there was a great discussion on the best platform for discussions – Twitter – about why men don’t seem to read more women authors. It is something that genuinely puzzles me. Please don’t expect to find any answers here, these are mere ponderings that ought to probe for reasons rather than reveal them. During my small trip to London last week I had the same conversation with everyone, the question being “Why don’t more men read books by female authors?”
I’m a man, [I double checked this morning] and I have my own views on this topic. I have frantically searched for possible reasons and have come up with the following to start us off.
- Upbringing and childhood environments
- Pure sexism (As also suggested by the wonderful Jane Harris)
Now, before I start to explore these ideas let me lay out some things. When I choose a book I don’t look for the gender of the author. It bothers me none. To be honest it matters not whether a book is written by someone whose sexual organs dangle or not. If anything I lean towards reading more fiction that spills from the pens of women. As stated, I am a man, if I want to escape [which is why I read] I want to escape into the different. I want to read the inner workings of someone who may, quite likely, think differently to me.
This could be linked to my upbringing. I was raised by a single mother – my father having abandoned me before I was even forced through the birth canal. Does this leave me more open and susceptible to women and their opinions and/or feelings? Of course, I am connected quite strongly to my mum, nobody’s thoughts or feelings matter more to me. Does this sway my habits? I am also a married man and father to three girls [It would be hard to pump more oestrogen into my daily life]. I feel a duty (and a pride), in a way, to be more open to women and their creative output. I want to set an example for my daughters to help them to grow into strong women [Maybe I’m also more open to exploring my emotions after the death of my eldest daughter?!], and as I said, I enjoy reading different approaches to certain topics. Would I think and act differently had I been raised with a male presence in my home or if I had a raft of sons rather than daughters?
I am not in any way attempting to justify those who don’t read fiction written by a woman. We all after all come from women; they raise us at the most tender points of our lives. So, maybe it is just sexism?
Of course this opens a whole new can of worms. I would let you make up your own mind about this. Let’s be honest, sexism is still rampant in our world in the same way that racism and homophobia lingers where it should not. If we open this can of worms, we should be opening the cans that are labelled “novels by people of colour” and “LGBT fiction”, also. I can’t delve into this world as I have no direct experience with it. So, let me just leave these quotes here that come from female authors on Twitter:
From D.E. Meredith (author of crime fiction featuring male protagonists) – “I had a man who said “I don’t read women’s fiction” about my books having no idea what or how I wrote.”
And from Jane Harris (author of literary/contemporary fiction) – “Men often tell me how much their wife/mother/aunt enjoyed my books with no sense of how insulting it is.”
Also, here is one from a female book blogger, Kate, who hits the following topic dead on – “Some men clearly have no concept that there’s a difference between books by women and books for women.”
Here is where naivety comes in [though some may have a stronger word for it]. Do men generally put off female writers because they believe they will always be reading the next Sophie Kinsella? Do they fear opening the novel and having to read “chick-lit” just because a woman’s name graces the cover? Should the publishing industry be doing more to push fiction by women into male hands? Do the covers of certain books put off a male reader who would actually be quite open to the story being told? Are men scared by what they might read? Guys, if you open The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, you won’t find a copy of The Female Eunuch inside!
The thing is some men are missing out on some wonderful fiction. The likes of Rebecca Hunt, Barbara Kingsolver, Maria Semple, Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, Gillian Flynn, Lauren Beukes, Maggie O’Farrell, Daphne Du Maurier and Hilary “best current writer on the planet” Mantel – are slipping under their radars.
It all comes down to equality. Women can be terrific writers, as can men. Women can also write badly, as can men. Women think with their brains and feel with their hearts, as do men. [You can’t see, but I’m doing the “I don’t get it” shrug of the shoulders].
So, what do you think? Let us have a reasonable conversation in the comment section below. Why do you believe this divide exists? What can we do to change perceptions?
*U.S. podcast Books on the Nightstand also covered these ideas recently on episode #221 ‘The VIDA Count’