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View Full Version : Is Women's Fiction A Sexist Term? (Guardian Article)?



gothicangel
05-16-2014, 11:29 PM
Joanne Harris thinks so:


Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/genres/list?page=3), meanwhile, has a hugely diverse list of genres to pick from (wizards or Spider-Man fiction, anyone?). "Womens" and "Women's fiction" both feature, but no equivalent men's labeling.
I asked Amazon to explain their reasoning; I didn't hear back. I asked Harris why she thinks it is an issue and this is what she told me: "It's an issue because effectively the gendering of books excludes certain readers from an area they don't need to be excluded from … Women aren't a sub-category … When you say literature it seems to me there is a definite implication it is written by a man. That is absurd and ludicrous but it is everywhere. It is a general and very broad strand of prejudice."



If there is women's literature, points out Harris, why not men's literature? "Why does fiction need to be gendered? ... How good does a woman writer have to be before she is referred to as a writer?" (Hilary Mantel has got there, she says, and so has Margaret Atwood.)
Perhaps there's something in the air, because Harris isn't the only author enraged by this. Randy Susan Meyers blogged earlier this week for the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-susan-meyers/post_7494_b_5263728.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000031) about how "if you want to publish on Amazon, you must pick a category from a wide-ranging list of possibilities (https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=201359210) that includes 10 subgenres of women's fiction and zero that are labeled 'men's fiction'".

Personally, (and as a feminist reader) I don't feel that it is sexist. It's just a marketing category, as someone who doesn't read a lot of Women's Fiction (struggling to think of the last time I did so.) All it means to me is that I would move to another bookshelf as I don't really like those stories (and look for the HF/crime shelves instead.)

Although as a woman who writes military HF, I agree with this:


Apart from the fact that Harris first wrote about Loki way before the Marvel films starring Hiddleston came out, she believes the comment is the tip of an iceberg. "A great big iceberg of sexism within the whole book industry, which stealthily perpetuates the belief that no woman writer can ever really be successful without having somehow copied from, used or otherwise capitalised upon the popularity of a man."

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/16/women-fiction-sign-sexist-book-industry

Thoughts?

Toothpaste
05-16-2014, 11:35 PM
Yes.

Until there is a subgenre called "Men's Fiction", yes.

Until the idea that books about women must just be for women and books about men are considered gender neutral goes away and all books are either gender neutral, or divided into their gender categories, yes.

Until Franzen starts getting the same pastel covers that the female authors in women's fiction get, yes.

Yes.

:)


ETA: This doesn't mean I think when they came up the category they were trying to be sexist. I believe it's another example of systemic sexism, something deeply ingrained in society. Just like people discuss writing books for boys instead of maybe discussing how to get boys to feel comfortable reading female protagonists just like girls/women have to read about boys/men and have had to for decades.

Kay
05-17-2014, 12:00 AM
Granted it takes a lot to offend me, but I am in no way offended/insulted/belittled, etc. by the term.
In fact, I kind of appreciate that I know I'll be reading a book geared towards women.

Papaya
05-17-2014, 12:09 AM
Yes.

Until there is a subgenre called "Men's Fiction", yes.

Until the idea that books about women must just be for women and books about men are considered gender neutral goes away and all books are either gender neutral, or divided into their gender categories, yes.

Until Franzen starts getting the same pastel covers that the female authors in women's fiction get, yes.

Yes.

:)


ETA: This doesn't mean I think when they came up the category they were trying to be sexist. I believe it's another example of systemic sexism, something deeply ingrained in society. Just like people discuss writing books for boys instead of maybe discussing how to get boys to feel comfortable reading female protagonists just like girls/women have to read about boys/men and have had to for decades.
^ Agree with this. And you saved me the trouble of typing it out. :)

Toothpaste
05-17-2014, 12:11 AM
Kay - Saying something plays into systemic sexism doesn't mean that I feel belittled. And I find it sometimes frustrating that the supposed way of determining if something is an ism is "do I feel belittled" because then we have people who come along and say they aren't offended and it becomes a debate about whether or not we need thicker skins. I respect that you are not offended by the category, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't reflect a real systemic issue in society.

Kay, you say you appreciate knowing books will be about women, but what about all the men who write about women but get shelved in General Fiction? Then all those should be shelved also in Women's Fiction. But they aren't. So you don't find those ones. If it was merely a matter of shelving any book about women in one section and any book about men in another, while I think that's silly personally, at least it would be equal. But this is more than just shelving books about women in one place. This is about implying that any books starring women and written by women are meant to only be read by women. This is implying that books about women are a) of no interest to men, b) that men's books, which do not have a "Men's Fiction" category, just "General Fiction", are for all genders whereas books by and about women are not.

This is the same for when bookstores shelve books by African American authors into "Urban Fiction", because again that can't be "General Fiction". Or books about LGQBT characters into their own section. The more we "other" works by anyone other than white males, the more we say that white male is the norm, and everything else is the divergence.

And that's why I don't like it. Shelve things by genre "Mystery", "SF/Fantasy", "Slice of Life", if you must. But not by humans.

Jamesaritchie
05-17-2014, 12:25 AM
But most of it is women's fiction. Only a tiny few men read it. And there is a category of fiction called "men's adventure".

And even if you call it cocker spaniel fiction, women will still be the primary readers.

Next someone will say "women's clothing" is sexist.

If anything, it looks to me that men are the ones being slighted. We don't even rank a category of our own on Amazon.

Toothpaste
05-17-2014, 12:28 AM
Agree to disagree James. If most women are reading, if most books are aimed at women, why isn't there a "General Fiction" category that is all those women's books, and a "Men's Fiction" section for the few men? And isn't it a pity that men won't read books about women, but women happily read books about men? Nope, nothing systemic in our society about that at all. That that which is feminine is lesser than the masculine, that masculine = gender neutral. That there is the "Everyman" who represents all humankind, but not the "Everywoman" who ALSO represents all human kind.

Also I've never seen a "Men's Adventure" section in a bookstore ever. But hey, with the demise of the big box bookstores, this all might be moot.

Ken
05-17-2014, 12:39 AM
Yep. Feel "excluded," or put off by the term women's fiction. In honesty, the novels that are categorized as such are probably not novels I'd read for the most part. But I definitely might give a few a go just to find out what they are about. A good book is a good book and enough to interest me if so. But with the term women's fiction no dice. It's like a "men keep away" sign. OK, if you insist.

Phaeal
05-17-2014, 12:46 AM
Olivia Goldsmith, in THE BESTSELLER, has her tough female editor muse about the different types of big-grossing books. One is the "Pink," or romance/women's fic. Another is the "Dick," adventure/military/Clancy-like thrillers. Men's fic, in other words.

So there you go: We need a Pink section and a Dick section.

gothicangel
05-17-2014, 01:00 AM
Also I've never seen a "Men's Adventure" section in a bookstore ever. But hey, with the demise of the big box bookstores, this all might be moot.

Yet in WH Smiths (UK newsagent) they have a section for Men's magazines that contain all the good stuff (science, history, archaeology, film etc) and the corresponding Women's section is filled with glossy magazines about celebrities, make-up/fashion, and dieting.

I go straight for the Men's shelves (stopped reading women's glossies when I was 23.)

Toothpaste
05-17-2014, 01:03 AM
Yes, in that at least they are equal, they do sometimes (not in all newsagents) divide magazines up by gender.

Quite frankly I don't think the solution is to do that, because, as Ken has demonstrated that can keep people from reading things that they might otherwise have. Also it's a bit of an insult to suggest that science is for men, fashion is for women. Though it is rather telling to me that you call the men's stuff the "good stuff". We all have our tastes and preferences, just because something is more feminine doesn't mean it doesn't have value.

For me, I would prefer, if we need to divide up books, to do it by genre, not by human. As I said above.



ETA: Thinking further on it, I think magazines are an example example of how you can divide things up by genre, and people do just fine. In Canada in our big box bookstore Indigo, the categories for magazines are things like: Entertainment, Sports, Science, Fashion, Lifestyle etc. No mention of gender at all.

Antonin
05-17-2014, 01:12 AM
What Toothpaste said.

I don't think the marketing people who came up with that term were necessarily sexist... they were being marketing people (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEnA29wK7uM)... ya know... the same people that use our emotions and identities to make their corporate overlords rich.

Avatar_fan
05-17-2014, 01:45 AM
Would be interesting to have an imprint for men's tastes. I don't think it would be called "Men's Fiction" since I don't think that'll appeal to guys at all. Television has "Lifetime" for a mainly female audience (I watch Intervention reruns there! But that show started on A and E, not sure if it's still there) while there's "Spike TV" geared towards men.

slhuang
05-17-2014, 01:52 AM
I would say it's certainly a manifestation of sexism that we have the category, but it's more complicated than that. Because I don't think the category itself is *necessarily* bad.

I'll unpack . . .

Bear in mind I don't know anything about publishing or how or why books get labeled "women's fiction" (or how that category is marketed). So I'm talking in a broader manner about "women's ___" here -- it may or may not apply to women's fiction, but I have no reason to believe it wouldn't.

Because, see, I'm frustrated by all the people who say things like, "We have a Black Students Association, it's racist we don't have a WHITE Students Association!" or, "Why do LGBTQ people get a parade, straight people don't have a parade!" or, "Why do women have a special award in this male-dominated field; that's sexist!" The thing is, one of the (sloppy, imperfect) ways we have of counterbalancing institutional sexism (or racism, etc.) is by artificially elevating people when we know they aren't getting a fair shake for other reasons, to try to equalize it. That's what affirmative action does, in theory -- it tries to provide a counterweight for the institutional bias that means people hire/admit/whatever white men over women or minorities.

(I didn't used to believe in affirmative action. Then I saw the studies showing how huge the disparity is between what happens when equally qualified resumes of men/women or white people / black people are presented to employers or possible mentors. Then I read about what happened when supposedly-unbiased orchestra directors moved to blind auditions. Then I learned about all the assumptions people make, every day.....)

So, in this case...."women's fiction" may be imperfect. It may be just a stepping stone. But is there the possibility it is doing some good in providing women a market and a path to publication? I mean, obviously the audience is there, but there are plenty of types of representation that have an audience that aren't being served because it's "too risky." If women writing "women's fiction" were competing in the general fiction category, well, what are the chances institutional biases would cause many fewer women to be published and many more men?

I'm not saying that "women's fiction" as a category is a good thing on an absolute scale. But maybe it's a better thing than not having it. And maybe it's just a symptom of institutional sexism, something we need because of it, rather than something that's causing or contributing to it.

Just some thoughts. Like I said, I don't know much about publishing or about women's fiction, so what I'm saying might or might not apply here.

Ken
05-17-2014, 02:02 AM
Y
For me, I would prefer, if we need to divide up books, to do it by genre, not by human. As I said above.

The library by me does this in the kids section. They don't divide the books by genre, but just stick a sticker on the spines to categorize them: adventure, mystery, and one or two other classifications. Very helpful to me when I seek out books to read. Maybe they could do that in bookstores?

jari_k
05-17-2014, 02:38 AM
I never gave it a thought. Perhaps I'd call it unnecessary rather than deliberately sexist. When I shop for a book, I never use "women's fiction" as a search term.

For light reading, I'm partial to mysteries, science fiction, or fantasy, although I will also read outside of those genres. The protagonists vary.

butterfly
05-17-2014, 03:30 AM
Books should have no label other than their title and category. They should be free to be whatever the reader imagines them to be, without being pigeonholed into something that may not get read simply because of a category.

Bibliodiscrimination, I say. Just stop already.

kuwisdelu
05-17-2014, 04:52 AM
I'm not sure if I'd say the category and the term itself is necessarily sexist, but it is certainly indicative of the larger-scale sexism in the literary world.

Samsonet
05-17-2014, 04:54 AM
It's not malicious sexism, I don't think, just a symptom of society's prejudices.

I remember getting into an argument once, with a boy who started telling writers not to write about puppies or kissing in the rain. He tried to frame it as a "Go explore the boundaries!" type of thing, but it sounded like he was telling writers to stop writing "girly" things and write "manly" things instead. It was an unpleasant conversation. /derail

Chase
05-17-2014, 05:03 AM
Of course it's sexist. You'll have to live with it, guys; it's their turn.

DancingMaenid
05-17-2014, 05:07 AM
This is the same for when bookstores shelve books by African American authors into "Urban Fiction", because again that can't be "General Fiction". Or books about LGQBT characters into their own section. The more we "other" works by anyone other than white males, the more we say that white male is the norm, and everything else is the divergence.


I partly agree, partly disagree.

Genres like LGBTQ fiction and African American fiction serve a purpose: they deal with themes relating to sexuality, gender, or race, and give a voice to minority groups. To me, queer fiction is different than a novel that just happens to have a gay protagonist. Queer fiction is, in some way, about being queer. And the author is queer.

I think a similar purpose exists for women's fiction. If a college course is teaching "women's fiction," that generally means works that deal with themes relating to being a woman, that are written by female authors.

However, in practice, the way bookstores shelve stuff can be more random or discriminatory. And I've never cared for the fact that "women's fiction" seems to often just mean a book with a female protagonist that deals with themes of relationships, love, or family.

JustSarah
05-17-2014, 05:50 AM
Is there an assumption that men necessarily like big guns and military fiction? And there are some men that read what is stereo-typically considered women's fiction.

With that said, I'm for eliminating gender-specific marketing.

jjdebenedictis
05-17-2014, 06:05 AM
Genres like LGBTQ fiction and African American fiction serve a purpose: they deal with themes relating to sexuality, gender, or race, and give a voice to minority groups. To me, queer fiction is different than a novel that just happens to have a gay protagonist. Queer fiction is, in some way, about being queer. And the author is queer.

I think a similar purpose exists for women's fiction. If a college course is teaching "women's fiction," that generally means works that deal with themes relating to being a woman, that are written by female authors.If I owned a bookstore, I would have shelves for things like women's fiction, LGBTQ fiction, African American fiction, etc.

And I would order twice as many of those books, and I would shelve half of them on the genre shelves -- just mixed in and mainstreamed.

In other words, I would try to break the ghettos. Let mainstream readers get exposed to everything that's out there; they might find they like it. Plus, there are a hell of a lot of great authors who deserve the exposure but can't get it, often for the most insulting of reasons.

blacbird
05-17-2014, 06:08 AM
Until there is a subgenre called "Men's Fiction", yes.

There is a subgenre called "Men's Fiction." Generally it involves heroic military exploits, lots of killing and the like. In terms of sales, it isn't anywhere near what "Women's Fiction" is, near as I can discern.

Women comprise the majority of the fiction-reading public, and women also comprise the majority of fiction-representing agents.

Try getting a female agent interested in representing anything even remotely perceived of as "Men's Fiction" and you'll understand the situation more fully.

caw

jjdebenedictis
05-17-2014, 06:13 AM
Is there an assumption that men necessarily like big guns and military fiction? And there are some men that read what is stereo-typically considered women's fiction.Apparently there is a big market in India among men for romance novels. Love stories are incredibly popular there, and there's no stigma attached to a guy wanting to read about romance.

Another thing to consider is that not as many men read for pleasure as women do, and you have to wonder if that's partly because of assumptions about what they like -- maybe the stereotypical man's story just isn't a good fit anymore for what most modern men want to read.

Sexism hurts everyone.

Night_Writer
05-17-2014, 06:45 AM
I never thought about the term Women's Fiction as being sexist. Maybe it is. But I think that a term like Men's Fiction might be even more sexist. Against women, I mean. Here's the logic.

If books are labeled Men's Fiction, it's probably action and adventure, with some exploding buildings thrown in. It's something men might enjoy, so it reasonably could be labeled Men's Fiction. Except that women might say, "Why call it Men's Fiction when women like these things, too? Who says women can't enjoy action and adventure? That shouldn't be labeled Men's Fiction, because that excludes women. Who says this stuff is just for men?"

That may be why we don't see the term Men's Fiction very often, if at all. Because it could be seen as discriminating against women. It's a way of saying that these topics are not suitable for women. And that would be a sexist thing to say.

ElaineA
05-17-2014, 07:17 AM
I'm highlighting a few things here...

I partly agree, partly disagree.

Genres like LGBTQ fiction and African American fiction serve a purpose: they deal with themes relating to sexuality, gender, or race, and give a voice to minority groups. To me, queer fiction is different than a novel that just happens to have a gay protagonist. Queer fiction is, in some way, about being queer. And the author is queer.Is this the "expectation"? I ask in all honesty as I'm not familiar with the distinction.

I think a similar purpose exists for women's fiction. If a college course is teaching "women's fiction," that generally means works that deal with themes relating to being a woman, that are written by female authors. mmm, OK, I guess a college prof can teach it however she or he likes, but for the sake of not muddling the argument, let's be clear here: Women's fiction is not only written by women.

However, in practice, the way bookstores shelve stuff can be more random or discriminatory. And I've never cared for the fact that "women's fiction" seems to often just mean a book with a female protagonist that deals with themes of relationships, love, or family.

As a way to find a book written about a subject a woman may be interested in, or that she can relate to, I don't mind the idea of women's fiction (not capitalized). We all seek out books that we think we might enjoy and there are themes and ideas explored within the "subgenre" WF that resonate with certain readers, same as there are themes within SF or Romance. The label lends a certain predictability.

That said, I do not like the gendered labeling. Not one iota. I have read too many sneery sounding "critics" use the label Women's Fiction (now capitalized) to send the subtextual message that the book/genre is somehow less. It's this aspect, how the label is used, that is the problem, IMO. Personally, I'm in favor of shelving things as Indigo does their magazines, or as jjdb. would.

Oh, and JAR...



And even if you call it cocker spaniel fiction, women will still be the primary readers. Dismissive

Next someone will say "women's clothing" is sexist. Ridiculous and dismissive

If anything, it looks to me that men are the ones being slighted. We don't even rank a category of our own on Amazon.PLEASE, give me a break. If you need directing to the pervasiveness of male privilege, might I suggest the current example playing out at the NYT?

*sorry for derail

Karen Junker
05-17-2014, 07:29 AM
I just want to say: ElaineA, I <3 you.

jeffo20
05-17-2014, 07:30 AM
There is a subgenre called "Men's Fiction." Generally it involves heroic military exploits, lots of killing and the like. In terms of sales, it isn't anywhere near what "Women's Fiction" is, near as I can discern. Maybe the decision makers are wrong about what men want to read....

Interestingly enough (at least to me) I do like to read a fair degree of military history, but I rarely read 'war fiction,' spy thrillers, or most other things people would think of as 'men's fiction.' I could be the exception.

DancingMaenid
05-17-2014, 08:56 AM
Is this the "expectation"? I ask in all honesty as I'm not familiar with the distinction.

I think there are different views/opinions on it, but yes, I think that the definition of "queer" fiction or "women's fiction" or "African American" fiction is that it's written by someone in that group. That's not the only criteria, but I think it's a big part of it.

By comparison, think of something like Scottish fiction. Anybody can write a novel that's set in Scotland, or features Scottish characters. But when someone talks about Scottish fiction, I think the understanding is that they're talking about works that come from Scotland/from Scottish authors.

Anybody can write a story about a gay protagonist or a female protagonist, and can do a very good job. But I think saying that something is queer fiction or women's fiction implies that the author is LGBTQ or female.

Once!
05-17-2014, 09:05 AM
There is a wider question here, which goes to the heart of what prejudice is and how we might combat it.

There is no doubt that sexism and racism exist. One way in which they are demonstrated is by having separate treatment for different groups, whether this is lower pay for women, gender specific language , segregated seats on buses, or the fact that the Pentagon has twice as many toilets as it needs because it was built to standards which recognised racial segregation.

But equally having separate treatment for different groups can also be a positive way to fight sexism and racism. We can have marches and demonstrations to raise the profile of a particular group. We might want to set up discussion groups or campaigns for one group. At one extreme (and not always universally welcomed) we can have positive discrimination in the form of women-only lists for political appointments.

And there is the problem. It can be both a positive or a negative thing to have a specific category for particular groups. Different people have different opinions on this. Some think that it is a huge step forward to have a section in the bookstore for LGBT fiction; others think that it could and should be integrated with all other books.

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here. If societies work by developing norms for behaviour, I think this is one of a number of cases where society hasn't yet made its collective mind up. It may be a transitional thing. There could come a time when we don't need separate sections in a bookstore, separate groups, separate treatment. But we're not there yet.

For me, equality of treatment does not mean identical treatment. There is a school of thought that we should combat sexism and racism by absolute neutrality. All language should be gender neutral. All book topics should be by genre rather than by reader. All races and religions should be treated exactly the same. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that. Men and women are different. Different religions need different arrangements for things like prayer, clothing and diet. I am the polar opposite of a minority - white, male, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual, middle-aged - but I can totally understand why we need a focus on black history, women's rights, LGBT issues. That doesn't mean that I need a white history or a men's rights campaign. Equality of treatment does not mean identical treatment.

So back to the core question - is it sexist to have a category for women's fiction? I have to answer "yes and no". For me, it is not automatically sexist simply because it is gender specific. Gender specific things can be perfectly acceptable, provided that they don't have an element of power attached to them. There is nothing wrong with men and women having separate toilets, for example, or for there to be more women's toilets than men's in a building because ... um ... we don't need to go into details, do we?

Having a category for women's fiction could be sexist if it is used in a sexist way or if people are offended by it. That will be a highly personal choice for individuals to make. And, as usual, it is not for anyone to say whether someone else should or should not be offended by something. If they are offended, they are offended.

In this instance, I don't see anyone using the term "women's fiction" to belittle women. As far as I can see, bookstores are trying to sell more books by helping us find the books that we want to read more quickly. And it does seem to be the case that women buy more books than men. Therefore ...

As I said, I think we are in a transitional period where we are trying to agree norms for equality. Until we establish these, my usual doctrine is to be as tolerant as possible about people who are trying to navigate a way through these difficult and ambiguous issues. So while I'm not offended by the term "women's fiction" I can see that some people might be.

I don't think there are right or wrong answers here. Only shades of grey. Hey, that could be the title of a book. Now, I wonder which shelf we are going to put that on?

Roxxsmom
05-17-2014, 09:53 AM
Yes.

Until there is a subgenre called "Men's Fiction", yes.

Until the idea that books about women must just be for women and books about men are considered gender neutral goes away and all books are either gender neutral, or divided into their gender categories, yes.

Until Franzen starts getting the same pastel covers that the female authors in women's fiction get, yes.

Yes.

:)


ETA: This doesn't mean I think when they came up the category they were trying to be sexist. I believe it's another example of systemic sexism, something deeply ingrained in society. Just like people discuss writing books for boys instead of maybe discussing how to get boys to feel comfortable reading female protagonists just like girls/women have to read about boys/men and have had to for decades.

Hmm, I seem to remember reading a blog about something called "men's fiction" a couple of years back. The idea was, I think, that there would be books that dealt with issues that were so central to the male experience that most women wouldn't be interested. As far as I know, this hasn't surfaced.

And I'm trying to think what those "unrelatable to all women" male experiences might be. I've read a ton of books written by men with male characters that have been interesting to me. Even when the men are different from me in some ways, they're interesting. The only exception would be tales that are wallowing in misogyny or that focus on sports or fly fishing or something I'm not terribly interested in, regardless of the gender of the person doing it.

Then there's this list.

http://gearpatrol.com/2013/02/04/100-essential-reads-the-definitive-mens-library/

Many of the books on these lists are ones I've read and enjoyed. I sort of resent the implication that they're not for me too, even if the protagonists are males.

I don't think of men as uninteresting, unknowable or unrelatable others. Men are interesting. Men are important. They've done many cool things throughout history. They have interesting thoughts and emotions. I want to understand them and lose myself in their perspectives sometimes. Relating to male hopes, fears, dreams and so on does not make me question my own femininity.

In fact, calling something "men's fiction" would pique my curiosity as much as those "no girls allowed" signs did on boy's clubhouses when I was a kid. This is the opposite reaction that one of the guys upthread (Ken, I think) mentioned about not wanting to trespass in a book labeled as being just for women, even if he were otherwise curious.

Not saying the reaction is wrong. It's obviously real and pretty pervasive, but I'm not sure why men have it more than women do. We tend to get indignant if someone tells us something isn't for us. Maybe it's because men were hogging most of the cool, high-status stuff for so long.

Now to be fair: I do get impatient with books that completely ignore women and female perspectives when there's no good reason for them to. Male perspective as default human being does get a bit old. I want to read stories written by female authors that have female protagonists too. However, I don't find the books that are usually listed under "women's fiction" all that interesting. And if a pair of high-heel shoes graces the cover of a book, my eyes will glaze over. I sort of resent that getting labeled as "women's," as if all, or even most women are that way.

In addition to a ton of female (and male) SF and F authors, I like many female authors of mainstream or contemporary fiction--Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler, Anne Rivers Siddons, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Barbara Kingsolver. But these books aren't generally listed under "women's fiction" are they? They're just in the general fiction/literature section at the bookstore.

Still, I wonder if as many men read these authors as women read popular contemporary male authors.

aruna
05-17-2014, 11:00 AM
As a Women's Fiction writer, and proud of it, he only thing I have against the label WF is when people assume (and yes, I'm looking at you, Toothpaste! ;)) that WF is all about fashion, high heels and is full of pink and sparkly covers. As a matter of fact I avoid pink and sparkly and fashion and high heels, and have done so all my life.

That's not what WF is about, though the high heels thing might be a part (a very small part) of WF.

WF is about a woman's journey. A woman, or several women, are at the centre of the story; it's about her journey, her trials and tribulations, her overcoming of difficulties, her growth. It's about the various kinds of relationships and loves a woman might experience; friendship, motherhood, partnership. It's about childhood and old age. And no, men are not forbidden from reading it or writing it. But it will be read mainly by women because we seem to care more about these things and go into them in more depth than men do.

Personally, I find the typical commercial men's themes -- action and adventure -- pretty shallow. But I don't mind if they have a genre to themselves so that people -- men and women -- who like to read action and adventure can find those books. And if men are interested in relationships and human growth and the various kinds of love and parenting and so on, all I can say is WOW; fantastic; come and join us! I know my readers will be mostly women, but if a man want to my books I would think it's a special kind of more sensitive man; and would welcome him with open arms.

I do not see the label as in any way diminishing to women: rather the opposite. It's saying "here is a room where you can find all those books you want to read without sifting through the action stories in general fiction". I like being in that room. And by the way, men who write this kind of book also fit in here: Franzen and co. And this kind of book ALSO fits in the general fiction section, and can be found there. Just that they are harder to find.

It's like multicultural fiction, which I also love to read. Fiction about non-European and non-American societies, other cultures, other ways of looking at life beyond modern-day-Western. There is currently no section for this kind of book, either in bookshelves nor on Amazon. So to find that kind of book I have to sift through hundreds and hundreds of books on all kinds of subjects to find what I want. At the very best, the cover or the title gives me a cue.

I long for a section "multicultural fiction". I mean, Amazon has a category World Fiction but that is really not what I mean, or at least, the books I look for are not there. Such a section is a bonus to these books, not an insult. It gives them extra status, extra attention, and helps readers find them. Yes, you can maybe think it's some kind of political plot to discriminate against the books, but I think it's far simple. It's a help, and that's all. It does not mean that "multicultural fiction" is only for multicultural or ethnic readers, or that white American or British people cannot read them. Quite the opposite. I write such books, and I love getting readers from the general population; in fact, that is my target readership.

By the way: great post, Once!

ETA: I'm curious. Are all those people saying it is sexist: Is it also sexist, the fact that there are separate magazines for men and women? And that reading a men's magazine is a totally different reading experience to a women's mag?

aruna
05-17-2014, 11:16 AM
[QUOTE=Roxxsmom;8871148]Hmm, I seem to remember reading a blog

Then there's this list.

http://gearpatrol.com/2013/02/04/100-essential-reads-the-definitive-mens-library/
However, I don't find the books that are usually listed under "women's fiction" all that interesting. And if a pair of high-heel shoes graces the cover of a book, my eyes will glaze over. I sort of resent that getting labeled as "women's," as if all, or even most women are that way.





My eyes also glaze over at such covers. But this is absolutely not what women's fiction is about. It's a very broad label and you probably would find many books there that might interest you. The books of Amy Tan, for instance, are Women's Fiction. So are the books of Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. Woman in centre stage, women's journeys, a woman's perspective.

aruna
05-17-2014, 11:20 AM
I just read the guardian article. It's all a big misunderstanding. The talk in the article is all about women writers. Women's fiction is not about women writers. It's about female characters (at centre stage).

cornflake
05-17-2014, 11:33 AM
I never thought about the term Women's Fiction as being sexist. Maybe it is. But I think that a term like Men's Fiction might be even more sexist. Against women, I mean. Here's the logic.

If books are labeled Men's Fiction, it's probably action and adventure, with some exploding buildings thrown in. It's something men might enjoy, so it reasonably could be labeled Men's Fiction. Except that women might say, "Why call it Men's Fiction when women like these things, too? Who says women can't enjoy action and adventure? That shouldn't be labeled Men's Fiction, because that excludes women. Who says this stuff is just for men?"

That may be why we don't see the term Men's Fiction very often, if at all. Because it could be seen as discriminating against women. It's a way of saying that these topics are not suitable for women. And that would be a sexist thing to say.

I don't at all understand how your scenario is in any way different from the current 'Women's Fiction,' reality. If you just swapped the words 'Men' and 'Women' in your post, what's different? How is it 'more' sexist one way than the other?

In a general sense, of course it's sexist to categorize books, or magazines, as being for women, especially given some of the content. It is, as noted, so systematic as to be unnoticeable to people, but that kind of makes it even worse.

aruna
05-17-2014, 12:00 PM
And incidentally Joanne Harris is wrong. There IS a section for men's books, and it is on amazon uk; as a British writer she should have done better research! It's called Lad Lit, which makes it sound like the equivalent of Chick Lit, but it isn't. Here are their top sellers (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Sellers-Books-Lad-Lit/zgbs/books/590930/ref=zg_bs_nav_b_3_590756); as you can see, the covers and titles are quite different to the ones in Women's Fiction. Yes, there IS a difference in taste.
So, does this destroy the whole argument that women's fiction is sexist? Based as it is on the assumption that there is no male equivalent...

Roxxsmom
05-17-2014, 12:27 PM
My eyes also glaze over at such covers. But this is absolutely not what women's fiction in about. It's a very broad label and you probably would find many books there that would interest you. The books of Amy Tan, for instance, are Women's Fiction. So are the books of Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. Woman in centre stage, women's journeys, a woman's perspective.

I'll have to give your books a peek, as they sound like something I'd likely find interesting.

It's still a shame, I think, that men seem to have so little interest in reading such books, when women don't seem to have the same disinterest in serious fiction that focuses more on male experiences and perspectives (as indeed, most famously classic literature and the novels we had to read back in school do).

And it's also interesting that a high percentage of people on writer's sites who express anxiety about writing opposite-sex characters are men. Maybe the problem is that males don't read many books written by women where women and their experiences are central.

I remember years ago when a group of friends were trying to decide on a movie, and several of the women expressed an interest in a then-popular movie that was a sort of female coming-of-age story. The guys in the group were very much DO NOT WANT about this movie, and when we accused them of being sexist for not wanting to see a movie that centered around women, one of them said, "Well, you gals probably wouldn't want to watch Breaking Away either [a then-popular male coming of age movie]." But we "gals" actually had all seen and enjoyed the movie, even though the protagonist was male and it centered around his tumultuous relationship with his father and his quest for male role models.

I've always remembered that as a very real gender difference. Women are interested in male characters and experiences in stories more than men are interested in female characters and experiences in stories.

cornflake
05-17-2014, 12:29 PM
And incidentally Joanne Harris is wrong. There IS a section for men's books, and it is on amazon uk; as a British writer she should have done better research! It's called Lad Lit, which makes it sound like the equivalent of Chick Lit, but it isn't. Here are their top sellers (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Sellers-Books-Lad-Lit/zgbs/books/590930/ref=zg_bs_nav_b_3_590756); as you can see, the covers and titles are quite different to the ones in Women's Fiction. Yes, there IS a difference in taste.
So, does this destroy the whole argument that women's fiction is sexist? Based as it is on the assumption that there is no male equivalent...

That one place has a section that none of us knew was there, when no place else I've seen at least does? Don't think so.

As to the bolded - is there? How do we know?

Would there be a difference in taste, which I presume is indicated by a difference in sales, if all books were or ever were presented as gender neutral?

I just read an article about the shift in the sex of vets over the past few decades. Many schools now have classes running 80/20 female to male. The article was discussing a study looking for reasons for the shift. One they found was that men touring vet schools apparently saw classrooms full of women and turned right around. Does that mean there's a sex-based difference in interest in the profession?

cornflake
05-17-2014, 12:34 PM
I'll have to give your books a peek, as they sound like something I'd likely find interesting.

It's still a shame, I think, that men seem to have so little interest in reading such books, when women don't seem to have the same disinterest in serious fiction that focuses more on male experiences and perspectives (as indeed, most famously classic literature and the novels we had to read back in school do).

And it's also interesting that a high percentage of people on writer's sites who express anxiety about writing opposite-sex characters are men. Maybe the problem is that males don't read many books written by women where women and their experiences are central.

I remember years ago when a group of friends were trying to decide on a movie, and several of the women expressed an interest in a then-popular movie that was a sort of female coming-of-age story. The guys in the group were very much DO NOT WANT about this movie, and when we accused them of being sexist for not wanting to see a movie that centered around women, one of them said, "Well, you gals probably wouldn't want to watch Breaking Away either [a then-popular male coming of age movie]." But we "gals" actually had all seen and enjoyed the movie, even though the protagonist was male and it centered around his tumultuous relationship with his father and his quest for male role models.

This, imo, is part of the ingrained, unconscious sexism that pervades society.

It's all based in that anything 'female' is less-than, that a man interested in something female is worthy of ridicule, that all female things are inferiour.

Same as clothing, though the 'there are women's and men's clothing depts. was a ridiculous, irrelevant argument, I agree.

Women wear men's clothing all the time. From Annie Hall to the boyfriend jeans to the sexy woman walking around in an Oxford shirt and nothing else, to women all over in male suits, shoes, etc., etc. There's no stigma at all attached to a woman buying and wearing men's clothing. It's notable, cute, or sexy.

A man wearing women's clothing, however, turns heads, invites ridicule at the least, etc.

Night_Writer
05-17-2014, 02:21 PM
I don't at all understand how your scenario is in any way different from the current 'Women's Fiction,' reality. If you just swapped the words 'Men' and 'Women' in your post, what's different? How is it 'more' sexist one way than the other?


Not sexist maybe, but potentially more offensive. The existence of Men's Fiction would imply that women are being excluded from certain things. It implies that some things aren't right for women. And women are sick of hearing it.

Women's Fiction and Men's Fiction are equally sexist. Or not. It's just people's perceptions I'm talking about.

That's all folks.

GeekTells
05-17-2014, 02:28 PM
I've never understood the drive to pretend that there are no differences between the sexes. It's really, really weird. I also do not understand how we can learn to embrace our differences if we pretend they don’t exist. From my vantage point, that’s irrational.

If someone wants to claim that one sex (or one race or one economic class or one sexual orientation) is better than another (or all the others, as applicable), I'll argue with that person. But arguing we're all the same? Nothing in reality supports this.

On the other hand, reality does support the idea that more women than men like to read books about a woman's journey (as so aptly described by aruna). At the same time, reality also supports the idea that more men than women like to read books about blowing crap up with cool gadgets.

Is there crossover? Do some men want to read stories about African-American women who overcome racism and sexism to find out who they truly are? Do some women want to read about fast cars, big guns, and rock-em-sock-em fights?

Yes, yes to both of those and many more crossover scenarios. And thanks to marketing categories, customers of whatever gender, race, or sexual orientation know where to find them.

As slhuang noted, artificially creating markets for previously disenfranchised groups is one of the few ways we have come up with to correct the imbalances of the past (and present). Is it a perfect solution? Hardly. Can book marketing categories be used by useless wretches to belittle someone's work? Surely. Do some books get unfairly relegated to a niche category when they should be classified as simply “Literature?” Yes. Do some readers miss out on being exposed to books they might otherwise enjoy*? Absolutely.

Does that mean we should pretend we’re all the same and market books in a gender-neutral way?

Only if you like cutting off your nose to spite your face and want to see fewer publishing opportunities for books that appeal to some interests.

Many of these marketing categories come with all sorts of baggage, but it seems to me that the publishing industry is more fair with them than it would be (or was) without them. It’s better for many authors and readers alike.

aruna
05-17-2014, 02:30 PM
Women's Fiction and Men's Fiction are equally sexist. Or not. It's just people's perceptions I'm talking about.

That's all folks.


Exactly. It's not as if women were excluded from the general fiction shelves/lists. They are on BOTH, which is to the advantage of readers and writers of these books, as well as publishers and retailers. (I myself have bought no less than five books from that list in the past couple weeks.) The only people who seem offended are those who do not read, write or sell these books. To me it is a manufactured argument. Equal does not mean identical.


It's all based in that anything 'female' is less-than, that a man interested in something female is worthy of ridicule, that all female things are inferior.

Since I know this is not true, since I am confident that I, am not inferior, and no woman is, I really don't care about people who think this way. I can only roll my eyes at them; they don't outrage me. They have a lot to learn and to grow, is what I think. They should read more Women's Fiction books! ;)

aruna
05-17-2014, 02:38 PM
I've never understood the drive to pretend that there are no differences between the sexes. It's really, really weird. I also do not understand how we can learn to embrace our differences if we pretend they don’t exist. From my vantage point, that’s irrational.

I don't get it either. I've always felt vive la difference; it's what makes life interesting and spicy. How horrible if men and women were just the same in different bodies! I love me; I like that they are different; I don't want to compete with them; I feel men and women complement each other and it's great that way.



As slhuang noted, artificially creating markets for previously disenfranchised groups is one of the few ways we have come up with to correct the imbalances of the past (and present). Is it a perfect solution? Hardly. Can book marketing categories be used by useless wretches to belittle someone's work? Surely. Do some books get unfairly relegated to a niche category when they should be classified as simply “Literature?” Yes. Do some readers miss out on being exposed to books they might otherwise enjoy*? Absolutely.

Does that mean we should pretend we’re all the same and market books in a gender-neutral way?

Only if you like cutting off your nose to spite your face and want to see fewer publishing opportunities for books that appeal to some interests.
Many of these marketing categories come with all sorts of baggage, but it seems to me that the publishing industry is more fair with them than it would be (or was) without them. It’s better for many authors and readers alike.

Exactly. And as a writer I can only cheer. My book presently is number 32 in the UK Literary Fiction category; on page 2. But because of the Literary Women's Fiction sub-category, which weeds out all those pesky men with their power-tools and football-hero-main-characters (just kidding, folks!), I'm on page one in that sub-category, at number 9! So it's a win-win situation for me and readers who might be looking for a book like mine, and can find them gathered all in one place. And you can be sure my publisher likes this, as well as Amazon. Why are you nay-sayers raining on my parade???

aruna
05-17-2014, 02:50 PM
That one place has a section that none of us knew was there, when no place else I've seen at least does? Don't think so.

The place was always there. I've been seeing it for a long time. This is on amazon.co.uk; the Guardian is a UK newspaper, Harris is a UK writer. She should have done her research. She can't claim there is no section for men's fiction, when indeed there is.

As to the bolded - is there? How do we know?

Would there be a difference in taste, which I presume is indicated by a difference in sales, if all books were or ever were presented as gender neutral?
It doesn't matter. We are talking what the reality is NOW. These books sell --- and mainly to women. Why do you think you have to change that; that women are somehow wrong?

I just read an article about the shift in the sex of vets over the past few decades. Many schools now have classes running 80/20 female to male. The article was discussing a study looking for reasons for the shift. One they found was that men touring vet schools apparently saw classrooms full of women and turned right around. Does that mean there's a sex-based difference in interest in the profession?

Yes. I look at the covers of those books in the Lad Lit section. Not one of those covers is in any way enticing to me, and I'm pretty certain most women readers will agree with me.

The thing is, we are talking at cross purposes. I see nothing wrong in the sexes having general preferences, with occasional cross-overs. I do not believe in gender-neutrality as a universal tendency, or as something we should strive for in every single walk of life. That is where I perhaps differ from many feminists.

Ken
05-17-2014, 02:53 PM
Apparently there is a big market in India among men for romance novels. Love stories are incredibly popular there, and there's no stigma attached to a guy wanting to read about romance.



Interesting. Goes to show that things taken for granted, guys don't care for romance in general, aren't givens. And you know something. Maybe if there wasn't such a "stigma" guys in places like the US or UK would read romances. Who is to say? There are differences between the sexes to be sure, but a fair amount of those differences may be learnt and ultimately add up to jack. So let's not be so quick to classify everything. This is for them; this is for us; etc. Let peeps decide for themselves what they want to read and not be steered into making a particular choice. My 2 cents of course.

aruna
05-17-2014, 03:33 PM
Interesting. Goes to show that things taken for granted, guys don't care for romance in general, aren't givens. And you know something. Maybe if there wasn't such a "stigma" guys in places like the US or UK would read romances. Who is to say? There are differences between the sexes to be sure, but a fair amount of those differences may be learnt and ultimately add up to jack. So let's not be so quick to classify everything. This is for them; this is for us; etc. Let peeps decide for themselves what they want to read and not be steered into making a particular choice. My 2 cents of course.

So you would just heap all novels together in one huge category and force readers to sift through them looking for books that truly interest them?

Actually, I find the idea that my preference for certain kinds of books "may be learnt" a little bit -- off. The idea that this preference is somehow imposed on me by society, that I was "steered" towards this kind of reading matter, that my taste in books (and that of other women) does not come from my (our) own true genuine sense of what is important to me --that all I am doing is following a societal-imposed stereotype -- don't you think that's a little presumptuous?

I'm not surprised that Indian men read romance, books that might be marketed as Women's Fiction in the West. Indian men, I find, are far less macho, and many so-called female values are upheld as superior in India: compassion, caring, nourishing, patience.

Yes, I do think it's time for Western men as well to read "relationship" books. I think we would have an improved society. But the fact that women have always preferred them -- maybe it's more than just societal "steering".

Ken
05-17-2014, 04:34 PM
So you would just heap all novels together in one huge category and force readers to sift through them looking for books that truly interest them?

Books don't have to be heaped altogether. As toothpaste said, they can categorized by subject and genre. Romance, Thriller, etc. Or like I suggested, heaped altogether but labeled with stickers so customers could know at a glance what's what. Though I didn't directly state it in my post, I am not totally against labeling for "women's fiction." I just don't believe it should be carried to the point of being restrictive, enough so men would be put off reading it. So basically labeling by sex if it needs be done might just be toned back a bit. "Might." Just my opinion. Overall I respect the publishing industry, like yourself and others here, and believe they do a pretty fine job overall.

India seems like a neat place from what you say. Fine caliber of peeps. We got our share here too as is the case in every country about the entire globe. Taken as a totality the human race rates quit well :-)

aruna
05-17-2014, 05:00 PM
Well, Ken, there has been a movement to rename WF Book Club fiction, or Relationship fiction, or maybe something else... but personally, I don't care. I never thought of the label as excluding men, or as offensive to women -- maybe because I always believe that women were on to the better stuff anyway -- as Indian men seem to already know! :)

Hapax Legomenon
05-17-2014, 06:15 PM
Hm.

I've heard a lot of complaints about WF covers and the idea that "no men would be caught dead carrying that" but the thing is that with the rise of ereaders people can read in public without giving any indication to what they're reading. I'm wondering if this may allow more men to read women's fiction. Who knows.

And why wouldn't men find romance interesting? They're usually half of it. Pssh.

aruna
05-17-2014, 06:32 PM
...and no better way to find out what women are like/what women want! :)

Putputt
05-17-2014, 06:47 PM
Books don't have to be heaped altogether. As toothpaste said, they can categorized by subject and genre. Romance, Thriller, etc. Or like I suggested, heaped altogether but labeled with stickers so customers could know at a glance what's what. Though I didn't directly state it in my post, I am not totally against labeling for "women's fiction." I just don't believe it should be carried to the point of being restrictive, enough so men would be put off reading it. So basically labeling by sex if it needs be done might just be toned back a bit. "Might." Just my opinion. Overall I respect the publishing industry, like yourself and others here, and believe they do a pretty fine job overall.


Bold mine. The bolded part is basically why I'm not a fan of the term "Women's Fiction". It's restrictive and limits your audience, which is...well, why the hell would we want to do that?

Targeting your product at a certain audience =/= Limiting it to that audience.

Aruna, unfortunately I disagree with you regarding "most women readers" not being enticed by the covers on those books aimed at men. I found some of those covers pretty enticing...and I mean, they even have Watership Down on that list, so I have no idea what determines if a book is aimed at men vs women. And in case anyone wonders, I'm a big reader of "Women's Fiction", so it's not like I have generally "masculine" taste.

aruna
05-17-2014, 07:01 PM
True, I can't speak for "most" women writers. I can only say they put me, personally, off! I wouldn't even click on any of them. But they do have a masculine "feel" to them.

Wilde_at_heart
05-17-2014, 07:21 PM
^ Agree with this. And you saved me the trouble of typing it out. :)

Me too.

ETA: Most true crime is bought by women (from what I've read - I could be wrong!) but how much of that is ever categorised under women's interests?

Ironically, whenever I've sought impressions from friends, online, etc. with one 'women's fiction' novel that I've been (sort of) subbing, it's been more of a hit with men, than women.

But then I worry that if I pitch it as 'commercial fiction' it'll be still viewed as 'women's fic' regardless.

cornflake
05-17-2014, 07:32 PM
Not sexist maybe, but potentially more offensive. The existence of Men's Fiction would imply that women are being excluded from certain things. It implies that some things aren't right for women. And women are sick of hearing it.

Women's Fiction and Men's Fiction are equally sexist. Or not. It's just people's perceptions I'm talking about.

That's all folks.

How does the existence of Women's Fiction not imply that men are excluded from certain things, etc.?


I've never understood the drive to pretend that there are no differences between the sexes. It's really, really weird. I also do not understand how we can learn to embrace our differences if we pretend they don’t exist. From my vantage point, that’s irrational.

If someone wants to claim that one sex (or one race or one economic class or one sexual orientation) is better than another (or all the others, as applicable), I'll argue with that person. But arguing we're all the same? Nothing in reality supports this.

On the other hand, reality does support the idea that more women than men like to read books about a woman's journey (as so aptly described by aruna). At the same time, reality also supports the idea that more men than women like to read books about blowing crap up with cool gadgets.

Is there crossover? Do some men want to read stories about African-American women who overcome racism and sexism to find out who they truly are? Do some women want to read about fast cars, big guns, and rock-em-sock-em fights?

Yes, yes to both of those and many more crossover scenarios. And thanks to marketing categories, customers of whatever gender, race, or sexual orientation know where to find them.

As slhuang noted, artificially creating markets for previously disenfranchised groups is one of the few ways we have come up with to correct the imbalances of the past (and present). Is it a perfect solution? Hardly. Can book marketing categories be used by useless wretches to belittle someone's work? Surely. Do some books get unfairly relegated to a niche category when they should be classified as simply “Literature?” Yes. Do some readers miss out on being exposed to books they might otherwise enjoy*? Absolutely.

Does that mean we should pretend we’re all the same and market books in a gender-neutral way?

Only if you like cutting off your nose to spite your face and want to see fewer publishing opportunities for books that appeal to some interests.

Many of these marketing categories come with all sorts of baggage, but it seems to me that the publishing industry is more fair with them than it would be (or was) without them. It’s better for many authors and readers alike.

Does reality support the bolded? By that measure, reality supports that little girls looooove the colour pink, pink-coloured toys and packaging, etc.

Is that true, or are toys marketed to girls all f'ing pink?


True, I can't speak for "most" women writers. I can only say they put me, personally, off! I wouldn't even click on any of them. But they do have a masculine "feel" to them.

Why do they have a masculine feel though? See above.

Toothpaste
05-17-2014, 07:46 PM
Aruna - first of all I know what Women's Fiction is, so please don't presume I don't. I wouldn't have mentioned Franzen at all if I thought Women's Fiction = Chick Lit. Those are two very different kinds of literature. Btw, I also read both.

Second of all, I think what it comes down to is a fundamental difference in viewing the world, and that's fine. But I wish instead of just dismissing my concerns you could possibly understand where I am coming from. You believe that there is a biological difference between what men and women want to read. For you that then means that having a Women's Fiction section makes a lot of sense, since here's a section for women to find the kinds of books they want to read and men can find their books in their own section (a section that doesn't exist in my country's Big Box bookstore, btw).

However I believe that when it comes to what people enjoy reading that that is a product of society. I believe that, at least in my country, boys and girls are taught from a very young age that men = gender neutral, women = other. I believe that because in all action movies you will have a team of different types of men (the jock, the nerd, the ladies man etc), led by a man, with a single woman as a type. You never have a team of five women and one man that is considered a fun action movie for everyone. Think of something like THE AVENGERS. I believe that also because most of the books that we read in English class growing up feature male protagonists dealing with coming of age. Girls are taught to just read these books and find something enjoyable in them, but boys aren't taught the same with books with female protagonists (fortunately this is slowly changing with a new generation of female English teachers). I believe that because J.K Rowling isn't Joanne Rowling because her publisher wanted to appeal to boys and was nervous that if they revealed she was a woman boys wouldn't want to read her books.

I don't believe that action = male and family = female. Especially not with the popularity of Franzen's books with all genders.

I do believe that calling something male and female keeps a societal divide that isn't biological. Keeps promoting this idea that men and women are fundamentally different down to what they like.

I grew up in a family where my dad loves musicals, period pieces and romantic comedies, but also loves action movies and sports. Where my mom is a big baseball fan and loves gritty thrillers, but also enjoys her period pieces and romantic comedies as well. I grew up in a family where art wasn't meant for just one specific gender. And personally, my taste for covers tends towards the more what you are calling masculine (though since I like it, I don't consider it masculine, I just consider it a particular aesthetic style).

As I said above, I still don't understand why we can't just break it down by genre, not humans. I respect though that you do like that. That your beliefs mean that you appreciate knowing what you as your gender should read. That you fall into line with liking more "feminine" covers, and don't have much interest in what we are told are "masculine" subjects. So I understand that for you dividing things by gender makes sense, and I can respect that. Truly.

That being said, the argument that what exists now is all that matters bothers me. I believe that change matters, that you don't make change without speaking up. And since I believe that men and women aren't born with specific artistic tastes, I want to help allow all people to be free to like what they want to like, regardless of what they are supposed to like. I believe that systemic sexism is an extremely difficult beast to fight because it's so insidious we don't always believe it's there. We think it's just a matter of men and women being born different and that's all there is to it. And that's why I responded to this thread in the first place with the full knowledge that people would respond to me saying it isn't a big deal, or that men and women are different and why do people insist otherwise, and even telling me I don't know of what I speak, that I am unfamiliar with what Women's Fiction is in the first place.

I don't enter many debates, especially not as much these days. But this is one I will always enter into because this particular one matters that much to me.

aruna
05-17-2014, 08:22 PM
Hi Toothpaste! Yes, we have a very different perspective and that is OK. But I get the feeling you are putting me in the box conservative/clinging to the old ways/old-fashioned/old/anti-feminist -- whereas nothing could be farther form the truth. And like you, it all comes down to background. I know the arguments because I grew up with a very very radical feminist mother, at least 20 years before her time. So I knew the score from a very young age, and was not raised "as a girl". So I never liked typical girl toys or books; I was a tomboy, never even touched a doll. I'm not sure how much of this was my mother's influence; her attempt to raise me "gender neutral"? So yes, you are right, a gender-neutral upbringing is possible and can be successful; and yet, isn't that also just another way of influencing a child's development?

Because later, as I grew up, I discovered my "inner female"; something that was innate and definitely biological. Something soft and nurturing and very very strong. And I began to stand back and be a bit critical of my mother's influence. I spent years, decades, trying to sift through and find was was genuine in me and what was feminist teaching, who I really was; I travelled the world, lived in various societies, and searched for the real me.

I'm not saying my own insight and my own path is valid for all women. But living in so-called third world countries has somehow hugely influenced my view; I began to respect and even admire all those female qualities that my mother put down as societal brainwashing: the nurturing, compassionate, caring strengths that I saw in the very poorest, most downtrodden women in my own country and in India and in South America; and I came to see them as innate; not necessarily female, as men can develop them too, but I began to see them as qualities that we should not disparage or look down on -- as my mother does and as Western society on the whole does -- but should encourage and uphold. I see them as invisible strengths, and I began to admire them more than the overt woman-power I found in the West.

I know that this view puts me outside the range of the typical Western feminist outlook, which these days seeks to "even out" the sexes; ie, women need to take on more of the traditional male qualities, and vice versa. I do believe that the psyche is fluid, and this is possible. No argument there. I just see no need for it.

I like the fact that there are two poles, two roles. Neither is superior, though t times the male role might appear superior. I will never care about fashion and make-up and I'm not sexy or want to be it, and I am not out to catch a man and I don't primp, yet still I love and admire the softer more traditionally "feminine" and seek to keep those qualities while staying strong, steadfast and independent. That is my way.

Maybe it is the rather cold rationality of my mother that made me hungry for the "soul of the home", the backbone of the family, that I saw in my friends' homes and families, and embodied by their mothers. There is something dry and brittle about her, and I did not want to become like her -- though she is very famous in my country and has achieved much good. I found my own way, and turned her upbringing of me on its head. I told her so as well, a year or so ago!

I do not see this as backward. It's just a different perspective, which, in the case of literature, expresses itself in the kind of books I like, and other women readers apparently also like. I see no need to counteract this trend, as I don't see it as an evil.

cornflake
05-17-2014, 08:27 PM
Hi Toothpaste! Yes, we have a very different perspective and that is OK. But I get the feeling you are putting me in the box conservative/clinging to the old ways/old-fashioned/old/anti-feminist -- whereas nothing could be farther form the truth. And like you, it all comes down to background. I know the arguments because I grew up with a very very radical feminist mother, at least 20 years before her time. So I knew the score from a very young age, and was not raised "as a girl". So I never liked typical girl toys or books; I was a tomboy, never even touched a doll. I'm not sure how much of this was my mother's influence; her attempt to raise me "gender neutral"? So yes, you are right, a gender-neutral upbringing is possible and can be successful; and yet, isn't that also just another way of influencing a child's development?

Because later, as I grew up, I discovered my "inner female"; something that was innate and definitely biological. Something soft and nurturing and very very strong. And I began to stand back and be a bit critical of my mother's influence. I spent years, decades, trying to sift through and find was was genuine and what was feminist teaching, who I really was; I travelled the world, lived in various societies, and searched for the real me.

I'm not saying my own insight and my own path is valid for all women. But living in so-called third world countries has somehow hugely influenced my view; I began to respect and even admire all those female qualities that my mother put down: the nurturing, compassionate, caring strengths that I saw in the very poorest, most downtrodden women in my own country and in India and in South America; and I came to see them as innate; not necessarily female, as men can develop them too, but I began to see them as qualities that we should not disparage or look down on -- as my mother does and as Western society on the whole does -- but should encourage and uphold. I see them as invisible strengths, and I began to admire them more than the overt woman-power I found in the West.

I know that this view puts me outside the range of the typical feminist outlook, which these days seeks to "even out" the sexes; ie, women need to take on more of the traditional male qualities, and vice versa. I do believe that the psyche is fluid, and this is possible. No argument there. I just see no need for it.

I like the fact that there are two poles, two roles. Neither is superior, though t times the male role might appear superior. I will never care about fashion and make-up and I don't like sex and I am not out to catch a man and I don't primp, yet still I love and admire the softer more traditionally "feminine" and seek to keep those qualities while staying strong, steadfast and independent. That is my way.

Maybe it is the rather cold rationality of my mother that made me hungry for the "soul of the home", the backbone of the family, that I saw in my friends' homes and families, and embodied by their mothers. There is something dry and brittle about her, and I did not want to become like her -- though she is very famous in my country and has achieved much good. I found my own way, and turned her upbringing of me on its head. I told her so as well, a year or so ago!

I do not see this as backward. It's just a different perspective, which, in the case of literature, expresses itself in the kind of books I like, and other women readers apparently also like. I see no need to counteract this trend.

I don't think anyone here looks down on the qualities of being nurturing or caring or etc.

I do think, rightly so, people look down on those being labelled female qualities, ones that men "can develop."

They're human qualities. They're labelled female as part of the entire societal subjugation. Saying you admire them AND they're female is not, to me, breaching some perceived feminist idea that female is not those things. It's not acknowledging that those things are not innately female (as opposed to male), which isn't the same.

EMaree
05-17-2014, 08:30 PM
I consider women's fiction a sexist term, because a lot of what's categorised as women's fiction would be called literary fiction if it was written by a bloke. But most of the problem is in how those two genres are handled: literary fiction is regularly praised as a high art, whereas women's fiction is often dismissed.

Separating one type of literary fiction from the rest based on the gender of its writer or characters is sexism.


And incidentally Joanne Harris is wrong. There IS a section for men's books, and it is on amazon uk; as a British writer she should have done better research! It's called Lad Lit, which makes it sound like the equivalent of Chick Lit, but it isn't. Here are their top sellers (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Sellers-Books-Lad-Lit/zgbs/books/590930/ref=zg_bs_nav_b_3_590756); as you can see, the covers and titles are quite different to the ones in Women's Fiction. Yes, there IS a difference in taste.
So, does this destroy the whole argument that women's fiction is sexist? Based as it is on the assumption that there is no male equivalent...


That one place has a section that none of us knew was there, when no place else I've seen at least does? Don't think so.

I'm really not surprised Joanne Harris has never heard of Lad's Lit. I've never heard that term uttered even once before now, and I live in the UK too. You'll hear "Lad's Mags", sure, but that's an entirely different ballgame.

Google results on the term are sparse, too, though Wikipedia has an article about it (saying it's synonymous with Fratire. Ugghhhh that name) and that it's a hugely problematic genre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fratire). It doesn't seem like a good comparison to women's fiction.


Described as a satirical celebration of traditional masculinity, the genre has been criticized for allegedly promoting sexism and misogyny.

Toothpaste
05-17-2014, 08:31 PM
I never said you were conservative nor backwards, Aruna. Not once. I simply outlined the difference in our perspectives. Nor am I some hardened feminist who denegrates the feminine. I love feminine things (or things that are coded as feminine) as well. I love being nurturing, I love makeup and clothes, I love what is currently categorised as "Women's Fiction". I ALSO love action movies, and drinking whiskey, and many other things coded as masculine.

I understand your perspective, I simply disagree with it. I don't believe that taste or an ability to nurture or an ability to lead or an ability to be logical or an ability to be emotional etc is inherently female or inherently male. And I don't think that makes me cold or ignoring the issues in other countries. I don't think that I'm dry or brittle. I think I'm lovely, quite frankly ;) .

aruna
05-17-2014, 08:39 PM
Cornflake: Yes; deep down inside both sexes are identical, absolutely identical, and both can be compassionate and caring and nourishing. But see, with my grounding in Asian thinking, I prefer the yin-yang view of life; qualities that complement each other. I like to see us as playing roles in life; we are neither male nor female, but those qualities of yin -- the yielding, giving, compassionate -- and the yang -- the forceful, dominant, outgoing. These two forces in nature are designated female and male. And yes, a woman can occupy the male qualities and a man the female ones. But they are called feminine and masculine for a reason, and there's no reason to eradicate them. And I am truly sorry to get into Taoist philosophy here; that was not my initial aim! I'm just saying that there are various perspectives; and this is mine. It is not wrong. Just different.

aruna
05-17-2014, 08:40 PM
I'm really not surprised Joanne Harris has never heard of Lad's Lit. I've never heard that term uttered even once before now, and I live in the UK too. You'll hear "Lad's Mags", sure, but that's an entirely different ballgame.

.

But shouldn't she have taken a look at amazon's actual categories before declaring they do not exist?

aruna
05-17-2014, 08:52 PM
I understand your perspective, I simply disagree with it. I don't believe that taste or an ability to nurture or an ability to lead or an ability to be logical or an ability to be emotional etc is inherently female or inherently male. And I don't think that makes me cold or ignoring the issues in other countries. I don't think that I'm dry or brittle. I think I'm lovely, quite frankly ;) .

Then we must agree to disagree; and I do agree you're quite lovely, and I do love you! But I have seen quite a few women emulating the traditional male qualities and it hasn't been a lovely sight, to be honest. They become so brittle, so hard, so disagreeable; all the things that the early feminists hated in men, these women seem to embody -- why???. And they don't seem happy at all.

Whereas when men take on more of the traditionally feminine qualities, well, they too become quite lovely!

ElaineA
05-17-2014, 08:56 PM
I consider women's fiction a sexist term, because a lot of what's categorised as women's fiction would be called literary fiction if it was written by a bloke. But most of the problem is in how those two genres are handled: literary fiction is regularly praised as a high art, whereas women's fiction is often dismissed.


YES, this.

My son is partial to those books about young 20-something guys behaving badly. They are definitely aimed at young males who will laugh at scatalogical humor, drunken misbehavior and "women trouble." Definitely not "high art" but somehow these are shelved in General Fiction. Or Comedy. And the target audience manages to find them without a gendered label. Imagine that.

Putputt
05-17-2014, 09:32 PM
Then we must agree to disagree; and I do agree you're quite lovely, and I do love you! But I have seen quite a few women emulating the traditional male qualities and it hasn't been a lovely sight, to be honest. They become so brittle, so hard, so disagreeable; all the things that the early feminists hated in men, these women seem to embody -- why???. And they don't seem happy at all.

Whereas when men take on more of the traditionally feminine qualities, well, they too become quite lovely!

Hmm, I think there is this misconception about feminists being these angry man-haters. :) I prefer to see feminism as a way not for women to be treated like men, but for women and men to be given the same opportunities.

I see statements like "nurturing = feminine" as pretty harmful, actually, because aside from the obvious harm towards women, most of the men I know would love to be able to spend more time with their families. Mr. Putt and I don't have any kids, but we've talked about it and he feels very strongly about wanting to be around and being able to be a nurturing figure in their lives instead of someone they see for an hour every day. But chances are that won't happen because as the male, he's expected to spend the bulk of his time working to provide for us.

Heh, sorry for the derail. :D

Lillith1991
05-17-2014, 09:43 PM
Hmm, I think there is this misconception about feminists being these angry man-haters. :) I prefer to see feminism as a way not for women to be treated like men, but for women and men to be given the same opportunities.

I see statements like "nurturing = feminine" as pretty harmful, actually, because aside from the obvious harm towards women, most of the men I know would love to be able to spend more time with their families. Mr. Putt and I don't have any kids, but we've talked about it and he feels very strongly about wanting to be around and being able to be a nurturing figure in their lives instead of someone they see for an hour every day. But chances are that won't happen because as the male, he's expected to spend the bulk of his time working to provide for us.

Heh, sorry for the derail. :D

Sorry for any further derailing of the thread, but the bolded is how I see feminism. Not as being about hating men and what society deems a tradtionally feminine role, but as wanting to NOT be penalized for my gender by being paid less than a man for the exact same job. For jobs to not be divided along gender. Little girls to be able to want to be law enforcment and firefighters, and little boys ballet dancers without being called fags.

aruna
05-17-2014, 09:45 PM
Hmm, I think there is this misconception about feminists being these angry man-haters. :) I prefer to see feminism as a way not for women to be treated like men, but for women and men to be given the same opportunities.

No, that's not what I meant. I was referring to a couple of women I have personally encountered who are so overbearing, dominating, bullying, in the way that in the old days only men were privileged to be. That can't be the right way.


I see statements like "nurturing = feminine" as pretty harmful, actually, because aside from the obvious harm towards women, most of the men I know would love to be able to spend more time with their families. Mr. Putt and I don't have any kids, but we've talked about it and he feels very strongly about wanting to be around and being able to be a nurturing figure in their lives instead of someone they see for an hour every day. But chances are that won't happen because as the male, he's expected to spend the bulk of his time working to provide for us.

[/QUOTE]

But nurturing IS the quintessential feminine principle, as taught by every spiritual tradition under the sun. Not that it is reserved for women; and men of course can and should be nurturing as well. And it's wonderful that men actually want to be nurturing as well -- that's progress. My son had a young daughter and he is the most adoring and caring dad imaginable, and I love it. But let's face it -- a family cannot survive on cuddles and feeding and comforting alone. Someone has to provide -- and that is every bit as important as nurturing. It's not just what society expects -- it's what survival demands, whether you live in the Amazon jungle or New York City.
I know lots of fathers who provide AND spend loving bonding time with their kids. Why should it be just an hour a day? What about weekends?

Putputt
05-17-2014, 10:04 PM
No, that's not what I meant. I was referring to a couple of women I have personally encountered who are so overbearing, dominating, bullying, in the way that in the old days only men were privileged to be. That can't be the right way. Nah, I don't think that's the right way...for either men or women. :) It just sounds like they weren't very good people. I wouldn't say they're "masculine", just...not very nice.

But nurturing IS the quintessential feminine principle, as taught by every spiritual tradition under the sun. Not that it is reserved for women; and men of course can and should be nurturing as well. And it's wonderful that men actually want to be nurturing as well -- that's progress. My son had a young daughter and he is the most adoring and caring dad imaginable, and I love it. But let's face it -- a family cannot survive on cuddles and feeding and comforting alone. Someone has to provide -- and that is every bit as important as nurturing. It's not just what society expects -- it's what survival demands, whether you live in the Amazon jungle or New York City.
I know lots of fathers who provide AND spend loving bonding time with their kids. Why should it be just an hour a day? What about weekends?

That's what I'm getting at. :D I mean, why can't both women AND men be nurturers AND providers? Why not give both maternity AND paternity leave? Why not let the men have more time off work and treat women equally in the workplace so that they can both provide AND spend time with their kids? Why should men only be able to see their kids an hour each day and then weekends? My dad was practically a stranger to me because he had to work such long hours, and then on the weekends I often had extra-curricular activities etc. I wish he could have been home more often, but he was out providing for us. My mom wanted to work to help out so he didn't have to work as hard but she's a woman and there weren't as many opportunities allowed to her. A little more balance there would've helped a lot.

That's what feminism is to me.

aruna
05-17-2014, 10:19 PM
I think that in most cases a division of duties works best and is less stressful for families, at least when the kids are babies. Of course, each family would have to work it what works best but in my case I would have chased my husband away with a broomstick is he has said he wanted to take paternity leave and I should go back to work and share with him. No way! Pregnancy is a time of such intense bonding, that to break that up once the child is born would have felt to me like utmost torture. I wanted a clear division of duties. I was so lucky that my husband earned enough to allow me to stay at home; other women are not so lucky. My husband liked his job; it was so obviously what he should be doing: providing for his family. He found pride in it, and this organisation of tasks was perfect for us. In fact, I never went back to work until 22 years later; I wrote books instead! I'm so glad I had my kids before the age when men can demand their right to stay home with their newborns. That is so not for me.

Lillith1991
05-17-2014, 10:48 PM
Aruna, I adore you. But not every woman wants to stay home with their baby. Some fit more naturally into the role of provider by nature of their personality. And more men are taking on the role of stay at home parent and nurturer, something I can only see as good. It breaks the mould of what it means to be a man when a man chooses to stay home and raise a family while his most likely female partner works.

But the rise of stay at home dads has brought something into even more stark relief than before, the fact women are not being paid the same for doing the exact same job a man does. Even in "traditionally" feminine job roles like nurse or teacher men are getting paid more. A family that could live decently on a mans salery are basicly forced in such circumstances to live less comfortably on a womans, because a woman isn't getting the pay her male partner would get for the same job.

To me feminism means that a woman gets the same pay as a man and the same respect in her chosen feild without it NEEDING to be qualified that any part of that respect is only because she's a woman. She should be respected as a human being and professional.

Feminism isn't only about women but men and kids to, about the little boy who loves ballet and other forms of classical dance not being called a girl, or the little girl that wants to be a firefighter not automaticly being called a tomboy despite the fact she may wear the girliest jeans and tops you can imagine. It's about men being refered to as womanly for wanting to be the one in the nurtuing role, and women being called manly because they'd rather be the provider.

Viridian
05-17-2014, 11:50 PM
I'm so glad I had my kids before the age when men can demand their right to stay home with their newborns. That is so not for me.

Popping in...

Aruna, this is one part of your comment I don't understand. It's great that you and your husband worked out what was best for you two, personally. But what does that have to do with the ability of other couples to make other choices?

It'd be like if I walked in here and said, "I'm so glad I live in a time where same-sex couples can't get married. Gay marriage just isn't for me."

Roxxsmom
05-18-2014, 12:00 AM
That one place has a section that none of us knew was there, when no place else I've seen at least does? Don't think so.

As to the bolded - is there? How do we know?

Would there be a difference in taste, which I presume is indicated by a difference in sales, if all books were or ever were presented as gender neutral?

I just read an article about the shift in the sex of vets over the past few decades. Many schools now have classes running 80/20 female to male. The article was discussing a study looking for reasons for the shift. One they found was that men touring vet schools apparently saw classrooms full of women and turned right around. Does that mean there's a sex-based difference in interest in the profession?

There's been an increase in the number of women in medicine and law too, but vet school has been the most dramatic. I went to UC Davis as an undergrad (they have a vet school), and up until the mid to late 70s, the pictures of vet school classes (they have them hanging in one of the buildings on campus) were almost all male, but then there was a fairly abrupt shift, and by the mid 80s, the classes were predominantly female.

One explanation at the time was that veterinary medicine does not pay as well as human medicine. Women are more likely, they said, to think that that won't be their family's sole breadwinner, so they're less likely to think "Wait, I can't support a family on that income" when trying to decide on a career path.

Except, it's now the 2000s, and a huge number of families are female headed. And of the three practicing vets I know socially, one is a single woman in her 40s, one is a woman married to another woman with no kids, and one is a divorced mother. They're all doing okay financially, even if they're less wealthy than MDs or some lawyers.

So the hypothesis that men will be repelled by a profession that's perceived as female dominated is interesting. Will this happen eventually with medicine and law if the proportion of female students there continue to increase at the current rate? Will the high status of those professions maintain male interest, or will their status (and salaries) decrease if they become more female dominated? I've heard there's already a glut of lawyers.

What if there's a big jump of women in engineering professions (there's been an increase in recent years, but it's pretty modest so far)? Will guys start avoiding those majors too? Salaries are already pretty flat for engineers in recent years, from what I've heard.

There's some talk about how more women go to college now. Will there be a point where guys think higher education is "girl's stuff" and do an about face when they tour a campus and realize that well over half the students they see there are women?

And at which point will this male aversion for things they associate with femininity stop being something that hurts women as a group and become something that hurts men instead? Is it already starting to be? Will the trend reverse itself if women become most of society's high-status professionals? Will men want to imitate women then instead of the other way round?



The issue of gender neutrality in marketing and packaging of books has some specific issues. There's already some research that hints that men are at least a little more likely (in genres that are popular with men) to not go for a book that has a female author or to put a book down if the blurb on the back suggests that the protagonist is female. So if women's fiction goes for more neutral packaging, there's still the female author and character issue. But it may be less pronounced, since at least there isn't the "shame" of being seen with a pink book, or a book that shows a woman in a diaphanous gown, or a man and woman in a passionate embrace, on the cover.

But if the women who love the genre already are looking for the female-slanted packaging, will the gain in male sales offset the possible loss in female ones?

Night_Writer
05-18-2014, 01:36 AM
How does the existence of Women's Fiction not imply that men are excluded from certain things, etc.?

It DOES imply that men are excluded from certain things.

It's just that most men don't give a rat's ass about it.

JustSarah
05-18-2014, 03:39 AM
So I'm a little confused, are we talking about basic feminism. Or are we talking about how books are shelved on Amazon? I thought I'd ask instead of comment on something I don't understand. I do think its a shame how Rowling had to merge her first two initials, because apparently men can't stomach reading anything by a woman.

kuwisdelu
05-18-2014, 04:53 AM
Second of all, I think what it comes down to is a fundamental difference in viewing the world, and that's fine. But I wish instead of just dismissing my concerns you could possibly understand where I am coming from. You believe that there is a biological difference between what men and women want to read. For you that then means that having a Women's Fiction section makes a lot of sense, since here's a section for women to find the kinds of books they want to read and men can find their books in their own section (a section that doesn't exist in my country's Big Box bookstore, btw).


Because later, as I grew up, I discovered my "inner female"; something that was innate and definitely biological. Something soft and nurturing and very very strong. And I began to stand back and be a bit critical of my mother's influence. I spent years, decades, trying to sift through and find was was genuine in me and what was feminist teaching, who I really was; I travelled the world, lived in various societies, and searched for the real me.

I don't think Women's Fiction is largely about those biological differences, though (with the exception of maybe a few of the more physical coming-of-age differences), nor is it about things that females are "biologically-wired" to like.

Men and women have unique experiences in cultures around the world, and Women's Fiction is about the female experience — not any kind of biological be-all-end-all female experience, because that would be silly — but a woman's experience grounded in a particular time and place and culture. And how a woman grows and is treated is different from a man in most cultures around the world. Women's Fiction is as much about that gendered cultural experience as it is about anything biological.

You don't have to believe in any kind of biological differences between men and women to understand that there are cultural differences. It's natural that Women's Fiction set in one society may differ vastly from Women's Fiction set in another society, though there will probably be common themes that resonate across time and place.


I know that this view puts me outside the range of the typical Western feminist outlook, which these days seeks to "even out" the sexes; ie, women need to take on more of the traditional male qualities, and vice versa. I do believe that the psyche is fluid, and this is possible. No argument there. I just see no need for it.

An important issue that I want to bring up is that feminism may look different depending on culture. That does not mean another version of feminism is "wrong". There is always a tendency to look at the world through a Western lens, and feminism is no different: people tend to look at sex and gender in other cultures through the scope of Western feminism and assume that women of other cultures have the same priorities and the same idea of what equality means, when in fact, equality can come in many forms.


Cornflake: Yes; deep down inside both sexes are identical, absolutely identical, and both can be compassionate and caring and nourishing. But see, with my grounding in Asian thinking, I prefer the yin-yang view of life; qualities that complement each other. I like to see us as playing roles in life; we are neither male nor female, but those qualities of yin -- the yielding, giving, compassionate -- and the yang -- the forceful, dominant, outgoing. These two forces in nature are designated female and male. And yes, a woman can occupy the male qualities and a man the female ones. But they are called feminine and masculine for a reason, and there's no reason to eradicate them. And I am truly sorry to get into Taoist philosophy here; that was not my initial aim! I'm just saying that there are various perspectives; and this is mine. It is not wrong. Just different.

I think the primary issue here is that in the Western world, attributing "masculinity" or "femininity" to anything makes it taboo to people of the other gender, but that is not always true in other cultures. In the US, calling something "feminine" means most men will necessarily avoid it, because they don't want to be viewed as feminine — that is not always true in other cultures. In the Western world, we have a binary breakdown of gender, but gender is not so binary, and there need not be a one-to-one correspondence between gendered things and one's own gender.

So people think that calling something "feminine" implies that it's off-limits to men, or that it cannot also be an inherent trait to men, when I think that is clearly not what you're saying.

Hapax Legomenon
05-18-2014, 04:59 AM
I definitely think it's sexist because most of the types of stories sold as "women's fiction" would be considered "literary fiction" if written by/about men. Because, you know, apparently when men write about relationships, it's deep and profound, but when women do it it's just a woman thing women do.

JustSarah
05-18-2014, 05:03 AM
Women are perfectly capable of deep and profound.:P

Roxxsmom
05-18-2014, 05:15 AM
I definitely think it's sexist because most of the types of stories sold as "women's fiction" would be considered "literary fiction" if written by/about men. Because, you know, apparently when men write about relationships, it's deep and profound, but when women do it it's just a woman thing women do.

An interesting point, which (more succinctly) is what I was trying to say.

A man's or boy's coming of age experience (aka Huck Finn, or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or whatever), or mid life crisis, or experiences during war, can be a timeless literary classic that will be read by both genders. These stories are not cast as "men's fiction," simply because they take a snapshot of a male experience in a particular place and time.

But a book that does the same thing for a girl or woman? Only girls or women could possibly find that interesting, so we'll label it "women's fiction," just to make sure men don't waste their time with it (and also, so women who've gotten a bit tired of reading literary fiction by and about men will be able to say, "Here's a book that centers on female experiences,").

JustSarah
05-18-2014, 05:23 AM
Wouldn't that bug more the question of why its labelled women's fiction? That's something I never understood.

This is why I'm glad that one lady got to be called Literary Chick Lit.

Does Spec Fic have as much as this problem?

endearing
05-18-2014, 05:34 AM
Such an interesting question. I've just started reading my first "women's fiction" book for review, and I immediately started asking myself the same thing. As far as I know, I'm not absolutely convinced it needed a separate category. What it seems to mean, so far, is that the story is largely character-driven, with a mostly female (but also significantly male) cast, with some romance, but not as central as it might be in a book shelved Romance. In other words, it seems literary, but generally without long philosophical rambles.

JustSarah, I'm not sure I understood your question. By "this problem", did you mean if spec fic also tends to indicate that supposedly high-quality books center on men and their problems?

Hapax Legomenon
05-18-2014, 05:34 AM
Right, it shouldn't be labeled women's fiction, it should be labeled literary fiction, as that's what it is, most of the time.

JustSarah
05-18-2014, 05:56 AM
Oh I just wondered if Spec Fic has the same problem of women authors not being considered as good as the male authors.

And then you have break outs like Margaret Atwood that prove them wrong. P.L. Travers had to merge her first two initials.

aruna
05-18-2014, 08:01 AM
Google results on the term are sparse, too, though Wikipedia has an article about it (saying it's synonymous with Fratire. Ugghhhh that name) and that it's a hugely problematic genre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fratire). It doesn't seem like a good comparison to women's fiction.

I agree that Lad Lit is the wrong label... but if you look at the actual BOOKS on that shelf, they are not what we associate with the Lad Mag generation. They are normal novels -- just with more masculine themes.

aruna
05-18-2014, 08:10 AM
Aruna, I adore you. But not every woman wants to stay home with their baby. Some fit more naturally into the role of provider by nature of their personality. And more men are taking on the role of stay at home parent and nurturer, something I can only see as good. It breaks the mould of what it means to be a man when a man chooses to stay home and raise a family while his most likely female partner works.

.


I adore you... but (dear Aruna, you're wrong!)
It had to come.
See, I'm really not concerned with what women want, or men want, or parents want. It's what the baby wants that comes first. A newborn, fresh from the womb, has such a deep, strong, emotional tie with its mother that it is doing it real damage to separate the two so soon after birth. The separation, if it is to come, should be slow and gradual. I know this as I was one of those babies. My mother went straight back to work after I was born (and this was in 1951 -- imagine the scandal!) and I have no doubt that I suffered some kind of damage through that early breaking of what should be a natural bond. So yes, i do know that to some women mothering skills do not come naturally, and probably my mother should not have had children --- probably should not even have married. but she did. And in such a case, i think the right thing to do is just to make the effort, even if you don't want to. Just do it. Sometimes in just doing things that are right to do, the love for it comes.

I'm sorry if this sounds anti-feminist -- but I do feel strongly on this. All my life there has been a distance between my mother and myself which I longed to close -- but couldn't. I vowed that if I ever had children it would be different, and it was. My kids, now adult, are my best friends. but I finally was able to speak to my mother, when she was all of 95. I think we made some headway -- but oh, how I wished for a warm, motherly mother when I was a child! My father was fantastic, but he was not a mother. (They were divorced, btw.)
Yes, after a while of gradual weaning, the dad can take over. But I believe if you do have a baby a full time carer who has a true emotional bond needs to be there for it while it is very small. I am very inflexible on this! Small babies are sponges for love. They soak it up. If they don't get it -- well.

But the rise of stay at home dads has brought something into even more stark relief than before, the fact women are not being paid the same for doing the exact same job a man does. Even in "traditionally" feminine job roles like nurse or teacher men are getting paid more. A family that could live decently on a mans salery are basicly forced in such circumstances to live less comfortably on a womans, because a woman isn't getting the pay her male partner would get for the same job.

To me feminism means that a woman gets the same pay as a man and the same respect in her chosen feild without it NEEDING to be qualified that any part of that respect is only because she's a woman. She should be respected as a human being and professional.

Of course they should get the same pay, and in Germany, where I live, they fortunately do.

WeaselFire
05-18-2014, 08:18 AM
Qualifier -- I'm male. Always have been. Don't intend to change.

I started a reply a few times and they all come down to a question -- What the heck is wrong with sexism?

Seriously. Sexism, in itself, isn't derogatory or demeaning. There are differences between sexes. Everything from medical issues to upper body strength to emotional changes to simply the fact that women's shirts don't fit men as well as men's shirts fit women. And what is inherently wrong about differences?

That said, I've read through this thread, read some of the outside info and come to the conclusion that I really don't care. Outside of knowing the differences for marketing reasons, there's no reason for me to worry about it one way or the other. I don't see any real way that it affects women positively or negatively. There are a million things that affect the perception of difference, women's fiction doesn't seem any better or worse than any others. And, except in politics and the courtroom, perception just isn't reality.

I happen to think if fewer people spent time figuring out how differences among people cause problems and more people spent time working out any problems, we'd all end up happier.

Jeff

aruna
05-18-2014, 08:19 AM
Popping in...

Aruna, this is one part of your comment I don't understand. It's great that you and your husband worked out what was best for you two, personally. But what does that have to do with the ability of other couples to make other choices?

It'd be like if I walked in here and said, "I'm so glad I live in a time where same-sex couples can't get married. Gay marriage just isn't for me."

It relates to my post above. I believe I have an inherent duty to take care of my newborn, because she desperately needs me. Should my husband have insisted that he wanted to do that from birth, I would have said no way. Never. I simply believe that mothering was my job, my task, my duty, and the best thing for my children. They, now adult, would agree. How other couples manage -- well, it's up to them -- but my personal belief is that the mother by dint of her biology gets first choice. I think most women of my third world cultures would agree with me. But I know we are getting into very slippery terrain here; normally I do not express my real beliefs as they are often in opposition to modern Western feminist thought. It's a cultural difference, and as I live in the West I just keep my mouth shut. Usually! So forgive me. I don't want to argue on this.

aruna
05-18-2014, 08:36 AM
So I'm a little confused, are we talking about basic feminism. Or are we talking about how books are shelved on Amazon? I thought I'd ask instead of comment on something I don't understand. I do think its a shame how Rowling had to merge her first two initials, because apparently men can't stomach reading anything by a woman.

The topic is how books are shelved. Some people think the shelf Women's Fiction is misogynistic. I don't.


I definitely think it's sexist because most of the types of stories sold as "women's fiction" would be considered "literary fiction" if written by/about men. Because, you know, apparently when men write about relationships, it's deep and profound, but when women do it it's just a woman thing women do.


Right, it shouldn't be labeled women's fiction, it should be labeled literary fiction, as that's what it is, most of the time.


In a world where Hilary Mantel wins the Booker three times, where women are at least half the writers on the Literary Fiction shelf, I don't know where the problem lies. It's not as if they are shunted off to a little room of their own. They are given room no BOTH shelves. If anything it should be men complaining of unequal treatment and demanding a men's fiction department -- so they can find certain books more easily.


Men and women have unique experiences in cultures around the world, and Women's Fiction is about the female experience — not any kind of biological be-all-end-all female experience, because that would be silly — but a woman's experience grounded in a particular time and place and culture. And how a woman grows and is treated is different from a man in most cultures around the world. Women's Fiction is as much about that gendered cultural experience as it is about anything biological.



thank you, Kuwi -- you said it better and more succinctly than I did. This is exactly what I mean -- although in the culture from which I speak, body mind and spirit are not separate, but melt into one another. In Yoga, the calming of the body leads to the calming of the mind; balance of body brings about balance of mind, and so on. Women's bodies are softer, rounder; men's bodies are bigger, harder stronger. These differences tend to reflect in the mind as well; not in all cases, but in general. And not that I am recommending women stick to "soft" jobs and mothering! Just that I see the sexes as complementary, and though I know that any woman can do what a man can do if she puts her mind to it, I don't see any reason to take up this challenge myself. I am (or was) happy to let my man do those household jobs requiring physical strength. And he was happy to do them.
But I think I better shut up now. There are deep cultural differences of perspective behind this discussion, and I am the outsider here. So I will bow out gracefully. Thank you everyone -- it was interesting, to be sure!

jjdebenedictis
05-18-2014, 08:39 AM
I adore you... but (you're wrong!)
It had to come.
See, I'm really not concerned with what women want, or men want, or parents want. It's what the baby wants that comes first. A newborn, fresh from the womb, has such a deep, strong, emotional tie with its mother that it is doing it real damage to separate the two so soon after birth. The separation, if it is to come, should be slow and gradual. I know this as I was one of those babies. My mother went straight back to work after I was born (and this was in 1951 -- imagine the scandal!) and I have no doubt that I suffered some kind of damage through that early breaking of what should be a natural bond. So yes, i do know that to some women mothering skills do not come naturally, and probably my mother should not have had children --- probably should not even have married. but she did. And in such a case, i think the right thing to do is just to make the effort, even if you don't want to. Just do it. Sometimes in just doing things that are right to do, the love for it comes.
I'm sorry if this sounds anti-feminist -- but I do feel strongly on this.
Yes, after a while of gradual weaning, the dad can take over. But I believe if you do have a baby a full time carer who has a true emotional bond needs to be there for it while it is very small. I am very inflexible on this! Small babies are sponges for love. They soak it up. If they don't get it -- well.That is a whole whack-load of your own opinion, and while it might be true and valid for you, it is not universally true for every woman and every child everywhere.

How is a baby fresh from the womb to know whether it is their mother or father who holds or feeds them first? Only by the voice--and given that the child is experiencing the entire world for the very first time, how likely is it they fixate on the pitch of the voice and feel traumatized by that when they're experiencing a tsunami of new stimuli?

If the mother dies in childbirth, and the father nurtures that child well and lovingly from infancy, is the child is still doomed to emotional damage because--according to you--the child does not have a "true" emotional bond with its father? That doesn't make any sense, it's not born out in reality, and it's insulting to single fathers.

Speaking in absolutes when you're armed only with your own opinion based on your own experience erodes your credibility in a debate.

aruna
05-18-2014, 08:46 AM
How is a baby fresh from the womb to know whether it is their mother or father who holds or feeds them first? Only by the voice--and given that the child is experiencing the entire world for the very first time, how likely is it they fixate on the pitch of the voice and feel traumatized by that when they're experiencing a tsunami of new stimuli?

If the mother dies in childbirth, and the father nurtures that child well and lovingly from infancy, is the child is still doomed to emotional damage because--according to you--the child does not have a "true" emotional bond with its father? That doesn't make any sense, it's not born out in reality, and it's insulting to single fathers.

Speaking in absolutes when you're armed only with your own opinion based on your own experience erodes your credibility in a debate.

A baby's mind is as sensitive and receptive as -- nothing else on earth. It knows exactly who it is with and if is loved or not; it knows, not through the senses, but through an entity beyond the senses, and finer. You may not believe me, you may dismiss this as my own opinion ... but it is still true.

Obviously there have to be exceptions, when the mother is unable to take care of her little one after birth -- but those are exceptions, and not the ideal. But again, this all comes down to cultural differences. So once again, I'll bow out.

kuwisdelu
05-18-2014, 10:18 AM
I started a reply a few times and they all come down to a question -- What the heck is wrong with sexism?

You don't see anything wrong with prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination?


Seriously. Sexism, in itself, isn't derogatory or demeaning.

Actually it is. That's the definition.


There are differences between sexes. Everything from medical issues to upper body strength to emotional changes to simply the fact that women's shirts don't fit men as well as men's shirts fit women. And what is inherently wrong about differences?

Sexism is not just acknowledging that differences exist.

It's defined as prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination based on sex.

kuwisdelu
05-18-2014, 10:25 AM
How is a baby fresh from the womb to know whether it is their mother or father who holds or feeds them first?

Mother is the first other.

You don't think a child would learn the heartbeat of the only other existence in the universe for how many months?

Mind you, I come from a culture where every aunt is also your mother and every uncle is also your father, and I think a father can be a mother just as a mother can also be a father, so I'm certainly not saying we should feel tied down by biology, and I certainly don't want to feel limited by it, either.

NRoach
05-18-2014, 11:05 AM
Mother is the first other.

You don't think a child would learn the heartbeat of the only other existence in the universe for how many months?

Mind you, I come from a culture where every aunt is also your mother and every uncle is also your father, and I think a father can be a mother just as a mother can also be a father, so I'm certainly not saying we should feel tied down by biology, and I certainly don't want to feel limited by it, either.

To be honest, I doubt very much that one heartbeat sounds any different to another, assuming the mother doesn't suffer from arrhythmia or somesuch.

Lillith1991
05-18-2014, 11:29 AM
To be honest, I doubt very much that one heartbeat sounds any different to another, assuming the mother doesn't suffer from arrhythmia or somesuch.

Actually there can be variations in heartbeat without heart problems. So it is possible for hearts within normal parameters to sound different from each other.

kuwisdelu
05-18-2014, 12:21 PM
To be honest, I doubt very much that one heartbeat sounds any different to another, assuming the mother doesn't suffer from arrhythmia or somesuch.

You're not much of a romantic are you?

Putputt
05-18-2014, 12:53 PM
Qualifier -- I'm male. Always have been. Don't intend to change.

I started a reply a few times and they all come down to a question -- What the heck is wrong with sexism?

Seriously. Sexism, in itself, isn't derogatory or demeaning. There are differences between sexes. Everything from medical issues to upper body strength to emotional changes to simply the fact that women's shirts don't fit men as well as men's shirts fit women. And what is inherently wrong about differences?

That said, I've read through this thread, read some of the outside info and come to the conclusion that I really don't care. Outside of knowing the differences for marketing reasons, there's no reason for me to worry about it one way or the other. I don't see any real way that it affects women positively or negatively. There are a million things that affect the perception of difference, women's fiction doesn't seem any better or worse than any others. And, except in politics and the courtroom, perception just isn't reality.

I happen to think if fewer people spent time figuring out how differences among people cause problems and more people spent time working out any problems, we'd all end up happier.

Jeff

Sexism =/= acknowledging differences. Sexism = discriminating against an entire group of people based on their sex and/or gender.

And heh, I guess it's real easy to say it doesn't matter when you're not part of the group getting the crap end of the deal. ;)

NRoach
05-18-2014, 01:01 PM
You're not much of a romantic are you?

I try :(

Once!
05-18-2014, 01:07 PM
What the heck is wrong with sexism?


That's the point, right there. Although maybe not quite in the way you meant it.

Let's turn the clock back 100 years. I think (hope!) we would all agree that we in the so-called civilized west lived in a sexist and racist society in 1914. In many countries women didn't have the vote, they didn't earn as much as men, we segregated people by the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs, and so on.

I hope we would all agree that that was sexism and racism.

One way in which this sexism and racism was expressed was in the use of language. If someone wrote about doctors they would tend to use the pronoun "he". If they wrote about secretaries, they would use "she". The use of gender-specific language was reinforcing the stereotypes that only men were capable of doing the difficult brainy jobs and a woman's place was behind the typewriter, mop or shop counter. And let's not get into the minefield that is the "n..." word.

Gender-specific language was being used as a way of expressing sexist sentiments. It was - and is - a genuine problem.

Let me give you a fr'instance. I have friends where the woman is a doctor and the man is not. They are still getting mail addressed to "Dr and Mrs ". The automatic assumption is that if there is a doctor in the house it must be the man.

From this came a movement to use more gender-neutral language. We would no longer assume that doctor must be male and secretaries must be female.

But ... and this is a big "but" .... some people have argued that all gender specific language is sexist. Everything must be gender neutral. And this is where we have a difference of opinion.

Sexism does not mean treating people differently because of their sex. It is not sexist to have a ladies loo which is separate from the gents. The plumbing is different, as it were.

Sexism (and racism) is where the differences are used unfairly to give one sex or race an advantage over another, whether this is real or implied.

That is why there is a quiet rebellion going on about the blanket imposition of gender neutrality in language. It is not sexist racist to call someone a woman or black or white ... if that is what they are. It is racist or sexist to link language to a sense of power or worth.

"My wife is a woman" is not a sexist statement.

"Cleaning the house is woman's work" is.

So to return to your statement: "what is wrong with sexism?". It is sexism if we use gender specific language in a way which demeans or implies the giving or taking away of power. It is not sexism if we call a woman a woman.

The problem, I think, is that we have all got so scared of gender specific language that we are afraid to use it even in circumstances where it isn't harmful. Gender specific language can and should be a celebration of who we are.

Cathy C
05-18-2014, 06:48 PM
Such an interesting question. I've just started reading my first "women's fiction" book for review, and I immediately started asking myself the same thing. As far as I know, I'm not absolutely convinced it needed a separate category. What it seems to mean, so far, is that the story is largely character-driven, with a mostly female (but also significantly male) cast, with some romance, but not as central as it might be in a book shelved Romance. In other words, it seems literary, but generally without long philosophical rambles.

JustSarah, I'm not sure I understood your question. By "this problem", did you mean if spec fic also tends to indicate that supposedly high-quality books center on men and their problems?

I'm actually surprised more people didn't key onto the bolded point. One of the things I've noticed is that certain shelving classifications tend toward either a character-driven story or a plot-driven one. "Romance", as a shelving classification, contains books that are mostly character-driven. "Thrillers" are usually plot-driven. "Women's Fiction" are also primarily character-driven. Generally speaking, contemporary romance and women's fiction are aimed at the same reading audience. Women's Fiction evolved out of a way for publishers and booksellers to try to sell a book on a limited number of shelves in a store to find the most likely readership. If the book wasn't one of the existing shelves (pre-1980s): Mystery, SF/F, Horror, Western, Children's, Classics, then it was "General". Mind you, this is before Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Urban Fiction, etc. existed. It's when sub-genres are added that things get topsy-turvy. Adding in SF/F or thriller or mystery or other details to a romance, or elements of fantasy into an otherwise contempory mystery often made the shelving more complicated. Booksellers then had to decide where to shelve it. In frustration, they told publishers: "Put a freaking spine label that says where you want this book. We're tired of guessing!" Some clever marketing type at a publisher out there likely started the whole issue by using "women's" on the spine on a cross-genre book--to which booksellers likely responded by much gnashing of teeth and the throwing up of hands, saying, "What the heck is "Women's"?" and then asked an employee buyer to read the damned thing and pick a spot. It was probably a character-driven book with emotional themes that said buyer thought might appeal to readers of romances. I'm presently at a romance convention, and happened to ask a few editorial types. This was their best guess. :Shrug:

That said, I have personally found that those who enjoy character-driven books find plot-driven books shallow and two-dimensional, while those who enjoy plot-driven books find character-driven books needlessly angsty. There seems to be a high percentage of people I know who just happen to fall along gender lines as to whether they prefer plot- or character-driven.

I'm an exception. I'm one of those rare people who don't want the characters in books to be deep and thoughtful--just give me a rollicking plot and I'm happy. So literary/classic is off my buy list. So is much of women's fiction. I don't want to read "journey" or "relationship books" because I like to see things blow up or have everyone barely escape alive. Romance is fine so long as there are strong plot elements, so I lean toward romantic suspense and paranormal. I write (and read) books that are about 50/50 romance and .

Now that physical shelving labels is less of an issue, and there are so many more niche classifications to define books, maybe it's time to break down books into the things that drive the books and interest the readers: plot and character.


Sexism =/= acknowledging differences. Sexism = discriminating against an entire group of people based on their sex and/or gender.

And heh, I guess it's real easy to say it doesn't matter when you're not part of the group getting the crap end of the deal. ;)

I agree that sexism is wrong. I just don't think it's where the shelving classification came from.


You don't see anything wrong with prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination?
Actually it is. That's the definition.
Sexism is [i]not just acknowledging that differences exist.

It's defined as prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination based on sex.

It is the definition. I just don't know that it's the current usage based on what I've seen in popular magazines. Terminology and the meaning evolves over time. Look at "gay" as an example. Not much use as a synonym for "jolly" anymore.


That's the point, right there. Although maybe not quite in the way you meant it.

Let's turn the clock back 100 years. I think (hope!) we would all agree that we in the so-called civilized west lived in a sexist and racist society in 1914...

I hope we would all agree that that was sexism and racism.

One way in which this sexism and racism was expressed was in the use of language. If someone wrote about doctors they would tend to use the pronoun "he". If they wrote about secretaries, they would use "she". The use of gender-specific language was reinforcing the stereotypes that only men were capable of doing the difficult brainy jobs...

From this came a movement to use more gender-neutral language. We would no longer assume that doctor must be male and secretaries must be female.

I actually agree with most of what you say, but just as an FYI, in 1914, women weren't the secretaries. It was considered to be a man's position, because women didn't have the mental facilities to handle business matters. But like in WWII, the first world war moved women into jobs they had no history in, and it was discovered they were pretty good at them. It's unfortunate that "secretary" has become a demeaning term. It has a proud history and I'm sorry tomsee it's taken on a negative gender stereotype. I don't know many professionals in the office to be "just a secretary," and it's unfortunate that an entire profession has become of the battlegrounds of the gender dispute.

Once!
05-18-2014, 08:35 PM
I actually agree with most of what you say, but just as an FYI, in 1914, women weren't the secretaries. It was considered to be a man's position, because women didn't have the mental facilities to handle business matters. But like in WWII, the first world war moved women into jobs they had no history in, and it was discovered they were pretty good at them. It's unfortunate that "secretary" has become a demeaning term. It has a proud history and I'm sorry tomsee it's taken on a negative gender stereotype. I don't know many professionals in the office to be "just a secretary," and it's unfortunate that an entire profession has become of the battlegrounds of the gender dispute.


Good point. The term "secretary" used to mean "keeper of secrets" and used to be a highly responsible and valued job - hence terms like "Secretary of Defence" and "Secretary of State". It is only in the last few decades (possibly with the invention of the typewriter?) that it has come to mean someone who supports an executive.

Wikipedia says this:



In 1870 Sir Isaac Pitman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Isaac_Pitman) founded a school where students could qualify as shorthand writers to "professional and commercial men." Originally, this school was only for male students.

In the 1880s, with the invention of the typewriter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typewriter), more women began to enter the field, and since World War I (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I), the role of secretary has been primarily associated with women. By the 1930s, fewer men were entering the field of secretaries.

jjdebenedictis
05-18-2014, 09:29 PM
A baby's mind is as sensitive and receptive as -- nothing else on earth. It knows exactly who it is with and if is loved or not; it knows, not through the senses, but through an entity beyond the senses, and finer. You may not believe me, you may dismiss this as my own opinion ... but it is still true. And I did not say one thing to imply that a baby isn't incredibly receptive, or that it doesn't know whether or not it's being cared for, so I don't know why you came back to this point. It's something I agree with.

What I disagree with is the (fairly sexist) notion that the baby has some mystical, magical bond with its mother such that a father couldn't possibly be an adequate parent to an infant. And I disagree with the idea that an infant could even tell--that love lavished on the child by their father is something the child would instinctively reject as substandard.

Hapax Legomenon
05-18-2014, 09:36 PM
I see no problem with women writers taking up the majority of space in the bookstore. If this causes men to stop reading entirely, just because there are so many women writers, well... that seems kind of like a problem with the men.

Bolero
05-18-2014, 09:42 PM
I understood secretary in the old sense, to effectively be a manager in training. The keeper of secrets also makes a lot of sense - cool. These days, executive assistant, or executive secretary are more PC terms (I think). Company boards also include the post of secretary - that is another one which has retained the status.

Interesting on women's fiction definition. Makes sense.

Three comments related to the discussion on men and women (but not much to each other :) )

1. All the earlier in the thread discussions about the differences between men and women. My "take" from my own life is that there is a bigger difference of approach/conversational topics between say "IT/science people" and more "art/language people", whatever the gender. The first are more likely to talk about things and the way things work, the others more about the way things look and feel - the emotional response to things. How much of this is nature, how much nurture/later training, I don't know. There is a personality test where you are shown a picture and then have to describe it. The response can range from saying "track heading towards mountain with big black clouds and a dead tree in the middle of the picture", to "a scene of desolation". And speaking as a person who gave the first answer, it wasn't that I didn't have an emotional response to the picture, it was that when asked to describe the picture, I described the picture, not the emotions it invoked. If I'd been asked for my emotional response, I'd have given it - but to me that is not describing a picture. As a scientist, I am trained to give dispassionate descriptions. If there is a next time, I'd probably give both answers - describe the contents of the picture and then say "it invokes the following emotions".
I think another big difference between people is that some people like to talk sport, especially team sport, and some just don't.

2. Reading about different cultures - one book written by someone who worked in the diplomatic service - said that in Western society women are held to be emotional and men either less emotional or they repress their emotions, but in Arabic society men are expected to be passionate and emotional and women more "cold and calculating" (that is a quote as far as memory works, not my own words).

3. Period expectations - saw a documentary last year on the development of the "stiff upper lip" in the UK. First off, being stoic was the ideal for both genders - wives shouldn't make a fuss when their husbands go off to rule the empire for years at a time. Secondly, it wasn't always so. In the Elizabethan period the English were known across Europe for being particularly emotional.

And now on books.

What I'd like to read is a relationship book of the women's fiction variety, is one where the male and the female viewpoints are given equal weight for what is going on. It would of course be just from that writer's experience, not universally true, but it would be interesting. (And possibly very funny.) Now it may be there are those already out there and I've missed them. It would also be interesting to see the inside of both sides of a misunderstanding.

I like writers like Lois McMaster Bujold - you get everything, action, imaginatively built future worlds and some astute observation on the interaction of people - and thinking about it, some of her more romance sf does have both sides of a misunderstanding - a Civil Campaign for example. (Duh.)

And finally - I get really hacked off when people make assumptions about other people based on their gender. It is short hand thinking. It says they are not paying attention to the actual person in front of them, but going for quick short cuts. Easily done in a busy day but......

I do suspect humans are wired for short cuts. Also to notice differences. Can see that in a hunter gatherer lifestyle, the person who notices something has changed, however minute, is the one who dodges when the predator pounces from hiding.

Mr Flibble
05-18-2014, 10:05 PM
That said, I've read through this thread, read some of the outside info and come to the conclusion that I really don't care.

That's because you have the luxury of it not affecting you in the slightest. Does that mean you believe it doesn't affect others? That you don't care if it does? I'm not trying to say that that's the case but that's kinda how it looks. "People do X horrible thing but I can ignore it because it doesn't affect me".

I'd love to have that luxury of not caring, but by accident of birth, I can't. Wanna swap?


Wouldn't that bug more the question of why its labelled women's fiction? That's something I never understood.

This is why I'm glad that one lady got to be called Literary Chick Lit.

Does Spec Fic have as much as this problem?


Opening Can of Worms Achievement unlocked!

I had a whole big post typed up and the site borked on me. So I'll just say yes, yes it does (though it may manifest in other ways)

This is understatement btw :D

Fuchsia Groan
05-19-2014, 08:08 AM
I used to teach a college course called Women in Literature that just happened to be all books written by women. Otherwise, they didn't need to have anything in common. I think of that syllabus as something entirely separate from the marketing category known as "women's fiction."

Case in point: Chris Bohjalian's books seem to me a lot like "women's fiction," as does Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone. They simply have characteristics I associate with that category: a focus on families and relationships, an accessible, not too literary style, and a certain degree of sentimentality. There's little overlap between those characteristics and those that I, a woman, seek in fiction. And the authors that I personally think write most powerfully about the female experience, such as Mary Gaitskill or Alice Munro, are more likely to be sold as lit fic.

My B & N doesn't have a women's fiction section, so this is all off the top of my head. I just know that when you see a display table with a lot of pastel, watercolory covers with women on them, it's likely to feature both Picoult and Bohjalian. You might see Munro there, but most of the authors are more commercial. And that's how I envision "women's fiction" -- as a very distinct category that is more likely to interest women in very general terms, but by no means appeals to all women. (For instance, it has an older audience than "chick lit" or YA, and a completely different audience from mystery and true crime, though those genres also appeal to a lot of female readers.)

I've thought about this perhaps more than I should because, due to reviewing obligations, I have had to read a fair amount of "women's fiction." It doesn't appeal to me, yet plenty of fiction written BY women does.

cornflake
05-19-2014, 08:38 AM
I adore you... but (dear Aruna, you're wrong!)
It had to come.
See, I'm really not concerned with what women want, or men want, or parents want. It's what the baby wants that comes first. A newborn, fresh from the womb, has such a deep, strong, emotional tie with its mother that it is doing it real damage to separate the two so soon after birth. The separation, if it is to come, should be slow and gradual. I know this as I was one of those babies. My mother went straight back to work after I was born (and this was in 1951 -- imagine the scandal!) and I have no doubt that I suffered some kind of damage through that early breaking of what should be a natural bond. So yes, i do know that to some women mothering skills do not come naturally, and probably my mother should not have had children --- probably should not even have married. but she did. And in such a case, i think the right thing to do is just to make the effort, even if you don't want to. Just do it. Sometimes in just doing things that are right to do, the love for it comes.

I'm sorry if this sounds anti-feminist -- but I do feel strongly on this. All my life there has been a distance between my mother and myself which I longed to close -- but couldn't. I vowed that if I ever had children it would be different, and it was. My kids, now adult, are my best friends. but I finally was able to speak to my mother, when she was all of 95. I think we made some headway -- but oh, how I wished for a warm, motherly mother when I was a child! My father was fantastic, but he was not a mother. (They were divorced, btw.)
Yes, after a while of gradual weaning, the dad can take over. But I believe if you do have a baby a full time carer who has a true emotional bond needs to be there for it while it is very small. I am very inflexible on this! Small babies are sponges for love. They soak it up. If they don't get it -- well.


Of course they should get the same pay, and in Germany, where I live, they fortunately do.


A baby's mind is as sensitive and receptive as -- nothing else on earth. It knows exactly who it is with and if is loved or not; it knows, not through the senses, but through an entity beyond the senses, and finer. You may not believe me, you may dismiss this as my own opinion ... but it is still true.

Obviously there have to be exceptions, when the mother is unable to take care of her little one after birth -- but those are exceptions, and not the ideal. But again, this all comes down to cultural differences. So once again, I'll bow out.

The hell it is. It's your opinion, and you're welcome to it, but I can't imagine you expect to voice such an utterly offensive, divisive, dare I say backward one and have people just ignore it. I'm sorry, I simply can't. It's enraging in it's offense, to me, honestly.

Not only is there no mystical bond between a woman and a baby, but to suggest there is, and to further suggest that, for said baby, not having the woman who happened to give birth to it there to take care of it full-time will inevitably cause psychological damage? Unless, apparently, the mother was eaten by a wolverine or what have you, then it apparently doesn't.

This so insults every adoptive family, every devoted father, every surrogate, woman who give children up for adoption, and, certainly, women who feel no need to give up their jobs, lives, or other things to stay home with an infant when they have no desire to, that I don't even know where to start.

Yes, babies, like other humans, know if they're loved. So do chimpanzees, elephants, gorillas, dogs, cats and presumably lots of other mammals. That's all they know. Same as the cute video of the dog adopting the squirrel baby that then lives with the litter of pups and hangs out in the house with its canine parent, a human baby loved and cared for doesn't discriminate. It loves its caregivers, related or not. If you refuse to believe that, fine, but that belief is about you and your personal life, not biology or human psychology. To refute that is to refute not just pretty much all of several branches of science that have anything to do with this question, but to refute the experiences of millions more humans than you.

Karen Junker
05-19-2014, 08:54 AM
I've always found the term 'women's fiction' sexist. I don't read it. I know and respect lots of people who do, though. I also think that if those books were shelved in general literature, the readers who like them would still find them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do read regency romances.

EMaree
05-19-2014, 01:06 PM
But shouldn't she have taken a look at amazon's actual categories before declaring they do not exist?

I'm a bit late responding to this point, sorry, but: Amazon UK do not define UK marketing categories.

The trade bookstore spaces, Borders and Waterstones, used to help set which marketing categories were commonly used. Now we only have Waterstones (and possibly W H Smith, not sure how much pull it has in the industry), and while it had lost a lot of power to the Amazon overlords it still has weight in the industry. And it definitely doesn't have a Lad's Lit section.

If Amazon UK's Lad's Lit section had been a success I'm sure Waterstones would have started using it too, but as it stands I've never seen this category in the biggest UK bookstore chain (or in any independent bookstores). If you use Google as a rough metric then "Lad's Lit" doesn't exist anywhere outside of that Amazon UK category (and a Goodreads list (https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/lad-lit) of shelves created by users).

It's really not fair on Ms Harris to expect her to be aware of a category that doesn't exist beyond a single page on Amazon UK. It's an Amazon-specific marketing term and isn't indicative of the current market

Note that all the Lad Lit best-sellers have different primary Amazon categories. Silent Echo (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Silent-Echo-J-R-Rain-ebook/dp/B00C7YPQQK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400490492&sr=1-1) is Crime, Thrillers & Mystery > Hardboilded, Plaster City (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Plaster-City-Jimmy-Veeder-Fiasco-ebook/dp/B00F2OSFNI/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400490492&sr=1-2) the same, Zero Day (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Zero-Day-Mark-Russinovich-ebook/dp/B008E8XV56/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400490542&sr=1-3) is C, T & M > Technothriller, Joshua (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joshua-John-Wilson-ebook/dp/B007S0DMT6/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400490542&sr=1-4) and Chris Ryan (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Most-Wanted-Mission-Chris-Extreme-ebook/dp/B008HTQ1R2/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400490542&sr=1-5) are Adventure Stories & Action. Lad's Lit is not their first category.

Kylabelle
05-19-2014, 03:40 PM
During my one year of University, I took a course in Women's History. This was somewhat radical at the time, having followed into existence the inception of Black History, and Labor History, which I also took classes in.

As I understand this, the study of history was being opened out from the truly dry assembling of and reporting on dates, names, and the acts of governments, and beginning to examine and recount the lives of actual human beings in their daily experience, and how the larger, more public events intersected with that experience.

We could consider all those categories of history to be born of bias and prejudice: sexist, racist, and classist. And they could be that. But only if their content and intent was so. If they are genuinely investigating a set of experience, they are excellent. I'm really grateful for what I learned in those classes.

Regarding Women's Fiction, clearly the whole question touches on some really closely held feelings and beliefs, and places in our society where things are just not fully resolved or understood. I've always felt the category of Women's Fiction was mildly sexist, even though I also agree with the points made about its legitimacy. So much really depends on how it is assigned!

gingerwoman
05-19-2014, 03:55 PM
I definitely think it's sexist because most of the types of stories sold as "women's fiction" would be considered "literary fiction" if written by/about men. Because, you know, apparently when men write about relationships, it's deep and profound, but when women do it it's just a woman thing women do.
Well especially if most of the characters are women.
Yes I agree with you Hapax. It is sexist. I don't like when people then try to pretend it isn't a category because it's sexist though, because the category is going to go on existing whether we close our eyes to it or not.
And Chris Bojalihan (who I LOVE) is classed as literary fiction, but his books most definitely fit the Women's Fiction category as I understand it.

NRoach
05-19-2014, 04:38 PM
The label "Women's fiction" just means "fiction for women", suggesting that women, as a whole, enjoy that particular type of fiction.
That sets off a few sexism alarms for me, simply because it's the same idea as branding certain toys (dolls etc) as "girl's toys"; something which I've always seen held up as sexist.

Once!
05-19-2014, 05:29 PM
During my one year of University, I took a course in Women's History. This was somewhat radical at the time, having followed into existence the inception of Black History, and Labor History, which I also took classes in.

As I understand this, the study of history was being opened out from the truly dry assembling of and reporting on dates, names, and the acts of governments, and beginning to examine and recount the lives of actual human beings in their daily experience, and how the larger, more public events intersected with that experience.

We could consider all those categories of history to be born of bias and prejudice: sexist, racist, and classist. And they could be that. But only if their content and intent was so. If they are genuinely investigating a set of experience, they are excellent. I'm really grateful for what I learned in those classes.

Regarding Women's Fiction, clearly the whole question touches on some really closely held feelings and beliefs, and places in our society where things are just not fully resolved or understood. I've always felt the category of Women's Fiction was mildly sexist, even though I also agree with the points made about its legitimacy. So much really depends on how it is assigned!

Very well said.

Fuchsia Groan
05-19-2014, 06:44 PM
I'm still mulling over this. Today I received a press release on "summer beach reads" for 2014. All the books featured were authored by women, had female protagonists, and pictured women on the cover. I'm guessing that all have women as a primary target market. However, only three were categorized by the PR co. as "Chick Lit/ Women's Fiction." One of those was Jackie Collins' new book; the other two were more literary-looking contemporary novels about women making big changes in their lives. One had "kitchen" in the title and featured a cooking theme.

The list also included lit fic, a historical ("Downton Abbey" era) and a thriller with a "high-society scandal" premise.

My biggest problem with some of the "women's fiction" I've read is that the protagonists tend to be passive. For the inciting incident, a husband cheats or a "perfect life" is otherwise disrupted by external events. The story concludes with a Mr. Right restoring everything to harmony. However, this is a rough sketch and by no means applies to everything I'd categorize as WF. Furthermore, passive protagonists are also common in lit fic, especially the quarter- or midlife crisis kind. (The difference is, there's usually no Mr./Ms. Right.)

ETA: I guess what I'd conclude from this is that you can't talk about "women's fiction" without separating the publishing/marketing category from various other interpretations of the term — of which there are many, some potentially sexist and some not. But most people's interpretations seem a lot broader than the publishing category.

When a term is used to dismiss a book out of hand — "Oh, that's just women's fiction, why would I want to read that?" — that's when it becomes offensive to me. Using "men's fiction" that way bothers me, too.

But I've dismissed books on such grounds myself, and I can't deny it. I'll read a book's blurb and think, Ohhh, this is yet another novel about an intellectual dude having a midlife crisis and lusting after a younger woman; why would I want to read that? It might be the best novel ever with that premise, but I will never find out unless I have to review the thing.

Roxxsmom
05-20-2014, 01:20 AM
I see no problem with women writers taking up the majority of space in the bookstore. If this causes men to stop reading entirely, just because there are so many women writers, well... that seems kind of like a problem with the men.

I completely agree. Women didn't stop reading when the majority of novels were written by men, and most of us do not categorically refuse to read novels that are male authored, even if we enjoy finding books that are written from a female perspective. If men are going to allow something like this to stop them from doing something they want to do, then that's a problem, obviously, but it's one they need to deal with.

Now to me, the term "women's fiction" doesn't mean a novel where mister right comes along and everything is okay (after some upheaval and tumult, of course). That general plot would be a subset of romance (and of course, not all romances are of this sort either). To me, women's fiction is more about women who are coming to terms with something in their life where their gender is pretty central--like mother/daughter relationships (the Joy Luck Club comes to mind), or a long-standing relationship with a female friend (Summer Sisters by Judy Blume), or motherhood, or female coming of age (Some of Anne Rivers Siddons's books), balancing professional and personal goals, or even issues related to being a woman in a specific culture. A romantic relationship may be a part of these stories, but it's not usually the main focus (or it would be a genre romance).

Little Ming
05-20-2014, 02:07 AM
(Coming in late; forgiveness if I missed something.)


The hell it is. It's your opinion, and you're welcome to it, but I can't imagine you expect to voice such an utterly offensive, divisive, dare I say backward one and have people just ignore it. I'm sorry, I simply can't. It's enraging in it's offense, to me, honestly.

Not only is there no mystical bond between a woman and a baby, but to suggest there is, and to further suggest that, for said baby, not having the woman who happened to give birth to it there to take care of it full-time will inevitably cause psychological damage? Unless, apparently, the mother was eaten by a wolverine or what have you, then it apparently doesn't.

This so insults every adoptive family, every devoted father, every surrogate, woman who give children up for adoption, and, certainly, women who feel no need to give up their jobs, lives, or other things to stay home with an infant when they have no desire to, that I don't even know where to start.

Yes, babies, like other humans, know if they're loved. So do chimpanzees, elephants, gorillas, dogs, cats and presumably lots of other mammals. That's all they know. Same as the cute video of the dog adopting the squirrel baby that then lives with the litter of pups and hangs out in the house with its canine parent, a human baby loved and cared for doesn't discriminate. It loves its caregivers, related or not. If you refuse to believe that, fine, but that belief is about you and your personal life, not biology or human psychology. To refute that is to refute not just pretty much all of several branches of science that have anything to do with this question, but to refute the experiences of millions more humans than you.

Completely agree. :Trophy:

Also want to add that the opinion that bio-mom is always the "ideal" person to care for baby (except, you know, when she's not, then exception) is a strong part of the anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption, and just general anti-gay platform. See this thread (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=289157). Because only a (bio) mommy and a (bio) daddy can possibly be the best parents for (their own flesh and blood, of course, because adoption is not "ideal") baby. :Headbang:

There's probably a point to be made about how sexism and the anti-gay agenda share many of the same talking points, but that's another discussion...

As for the "women's fiction" label, my opinion is summed up here:


The label "Women's fiction" just means "fiction for women", suggesting that women, as a whole, enjoy that particular type of fiction.
That sets off a few sexism alarms for me, simply because it's the same idea as branding certain toys (dolls etc) as "girl's toys"; something which I've always seen held up as sexist. (Emphasis mine.)

I had no idea we found something that appealed to half the human population. :tongue

gingerwoman
05-20-2014, 02:59 AM
This, imo, is part of the ingrained, unconscious sexism that pervades society.

It's all based in that anything 'female' is less-than, that a man interested in something female is worthy of ridicule, that all female things are inferiour.

Same as clothing, though the 'there are women's and men's clothing depts. was a ridiculous, irrelevant argument, I agree.

Women wear men's clothing all the time. From Annie Hall to the boyfriend jeans to the sexy woman walking around in an Oxford shirt and nothing else, to women all over in male suits, shoes, etc., etc. There's no stigma at all attached to a woman buying and wearing men's clothing. It's notable, cute, or sexy.

A man wearing women's clothing, however, turns heads, invites ridicule at the least, etc.
I agree. In addition there is the stereotype of the plucky wonderful tomboy girl who is so appealing in her boyish clothes and splashes that nasty girl who always wears pretty dresses with mud. That again is the idea that female is less than. Even the girl who likes to dress girly is someone to despise. Enjoying traditionally cis female things is so often considered something to sneer at in our modern age. I felt transgressive making a Pinterest page of gloriously "girly" things.

Viridian
05-20-2014, 03:13 AM
I haven't got as much to say as the rest of you, sorry. I feel pretty simple about it.

If the only defining feature of these books is that they supposedly appeal to women, that's not only sexist, but vague and nonsensical. "Things women like to read about" is a bullshit category.

If there is some other, special, hidden feature of this genre -- something that binds them together other than who supposedly buys them -- then this genre should be called that instead. If these books are all about family? Family fiction. If these books are all about romance? Romantic fiction. If these books are coming-of-age novels? Literary fiction. Why is this even a thing?

eyeblink
05-20-2014, 03:47 AM
I find it odd that there are men who will not read works by women, and I can't think of any of my male friends who are serious readers who wouldn't. But I do know they exist.

To tell a story I've told here before, a close friend of mine is an award-winning short-fiction writer who had a collection out in 2003, and was then and still is an English teacher at a Scottish secondary school. Her head of department is a man who quite openly will not read fiction by women, including my friend's collection - despite the good reviews it had, and despite the presence of a story which won the Crime Writers' Association Short Fiction Dagger and was reprinted in Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. So that was nice of him. That same man has also insisted that S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders (a novel my friend dislikes) because he says teenage boys can relate to it. He isn't as far as I know aware that the author's initials stand for Susan Eloise.

I can't remember ever having an issue with reading books by women, and certainly not when I was reading from the adult library. In a boys' school I suspect anything unduly "feminine" might have attracted comment. But for about five years I read almost exclusively SF, and read novels and story collections by Ursula Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and James Tiptree Jr (and I did know she was a woman before I read her) and others. There were other major women SF writers around at the time I didn't read - Joanna Russ for one, and I didn't get to The Female Man until much more recently, making a point of reading it when she died - but that was simply because for one reason or another I just didn't get round to them.

About thirty years ago, I started reading literary fiction and haven't read exclusively in any one genre ever since. One of the first writers I read then was Doris Lessing and Joyce Carol Oates and Jennifer Johnston are two favourites of mine I've been reading since the age of eighteen.

In a given year I probably do read at least as many books by women as I do by men, and often more so - not by intention, as it tends to work out that way. Last year was an exception, mainly because as a reading project I read all twelve volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time and Anthony Powell skewed the figures somewhat!

Kayley
05-20-2014, 03:53 AM
You may not believe me, you may dismiss this as my own opinion ... but it is still true.

This is the crux of why people are questioning your views, aruna. The views you are expressing are your opinion; they are NOT truth. You can't state them as a universal truth unless you have credible evidence to back them up. We get that you value the love of a mother more than any other type of love, but that is only in your experience, and thus you can't expect other people to adhere to that value. Stating that as a truth is offensive because it implies that other types of love are not as meaningful, which is in no way true. If it is, please present us evidence of it.

TL;DR: You are free to believe what you want to, just don't proclaim those beliefs as absolute truths. I am not bothered by your beliefs; I am bothered by the implication that your beliefs are universally true. Making that statement devalues the opinions of everyone else relative to your own. Unless you have evidence of your claim, don't state it as a truth.

As for the topic at hand: I'm with the crew stating the label is sexist systematically, but without ill intent. I would like to see a transition over time from the "women's fiction" label to more gender-neutral labels, but I understand where the "women's fiction" label came from and am not particularly offended by it. However, in a progressive society, we should be beyond such divisive labels. As ViridianChick stated, if the books share similar themes, they should be classified based on those themes rather than the assumed gender of the audience.

Roxxsmom
05-20-2014, 05:12 AM
I had no idea we found something that appealed to half the human population. :tongue

Could you imagine how fabulously wealthy someone would be if he or she actually did discover something that fully 50% of the adults now alive on this planet wanted to spend their hard-earned discretionary money on?

After reading and commenting and thinking about all this and sorting through all the ideas people have about it, I think "women's fiction" is an attempt to label a demographic niche, much as YA does. Like YA, a story doesn't just have to have a character from that demographic to be labeled as such. It needs to be told from a certain perspective. And the underlying assumption is that it's a perspective that most "mainstream" and "genre" fiction does not use. It allows people from an underrepresented literary group to readily identify a certain kind of story that may appeal to them.

It's probably not meant to be offensive and dismissive. However, the down side is that marketing a story specifically to a particular age or gender demographic also sends a message to people who are not YA or women that these stories probably won't appeal to them, which is kind of a shame. There are plenty of great YA titles that go unread by most adults because of the stigma associated with reading something that's "kid's stuff," and there are plenty of great women's fiction titles that go unread by men because of the stigma associated with reading "women's stuff."

Why doesn't the stigma exist in reverse? Because adults and men are held in higher esteem overall by society than teens and women.

cmi0616
05-20-2014, 05:17 AM
It didn't occur to me that people outside of marketing/publishing thought the term wasn't sexist until I had a very long and confusing debate with another member on this site.

To me, anyway, it seems as though the "Women's Fiction" label, especially in literary fiction, serves expressly to discredit a novel and cast it out of the "literary" realm. And so Jonathan Franzen gets his picture on the cover of TIME and Meg Wolitzer gets marketed as a romance writer.

But, as I've learned recently, there are apparently some women who aren't bothered by the term at all, although I've met many more who are.

Roxxsmom
05-20-2014, 05:58 AM
Actually, I'm going to step in the doo doo about the wants and needs of babies and say that while I agree couples should think very carefully about whether they should have children (an option that's really only existed for a few decades and still doesn't in some places and cultures), I don't agree that a woman should only have kids if she and she alone is able to commit to giving a baby a perfect experience (whatever that is, and assuming what's perfect for one baby would be perfect for all).

My parents did the traditional thing with Mom staying home when I was young, and they still screwed up in all kinds of ways. They weren't perfect people, and they had some strange ideas (by current standards) about parenting and about what kids should be capable of at a given age. Some of their screw ups have left me with some baggage, but I don't regret that I was born or wish I'd had different parents. I consider my mom (and my dad before he passed) to be one of my best friends also. They were and are great, but imperfect, people, and I know they love/loved me.

People of either gender who can be perfect parents are pretty darned rare, even in the modern western world with all our child psychology and baby books and choices about when and whether to become parents, and it was even rarer historically. And to be honest, maybe that's all right. Kids are resilient, so long as they're not abused, and I actually have some admittedly anecdotal opinions about the results of families being too child centered. I think Kids need to adapt to their parents as much as parents need to adapt to their kids. I'm not saying we should return to the old "Children should be seen but not heard" mentality (which certainly existed in many traditional mom-caregiver families), but mothers need to take care of their own needs too, or they'll start to resent their kids.

Pre-industrial families, and some modern cultures too, rely very heavily on extended networks of grannies, aunties, siblings and so on, and sometimes also the dad, to help with infant and child care. The nuclear family where mom is supposed to do it all herself is actually pretty modern western, isn't it?

And women have always had a ton of things they have to do besides child care in most cultures. Gathering food, crafting, working in the fields etc., and yes, often working in the family business or working at a job to earn money to supplement her husband's income (or to raise her kids on her own because she was widowed or unwed). And sometimes a younger sibling comes along too soon from the perspective of the first infant, and that causes resentment too.

I'd argue that waiting to have kids until you're 100% ready and staying home full time and focusing exclusively on one child at a time is actually a luxury that is rare outside of fairly modern and industrialized socioeconomic situation.

Karen Junker
05-20-2014, 06:23 AM
I think I'd like to add to what Roxxsmom said: I worked outside the home from the time my first child was 2 weeks old. Her father got primary custody when we divorced and later, our second child was dying of cancer when I remarried and had my youngest son. I was so much a wreck, my youngest son's father really bonded with him more than I did. Another divorce and split custody. But my kids are in their 30s now and doing okay -- and we have always maintained loving relationships through visits. Theirs was not an ideal childhood, but they wound up having many caretakers and maintain good relationships with an extended family on both sides.

I have always been a feminist and was the first woman in my area to perform in certain jobs. I always made more money than the fathers of my children and I believed that the children would benefit from having a close relationship with both of their parents.

blacbird
05-20-2014, 06:31 AM
Back to the focus of the OP: I've done many a perusal of the preference of agents regarding what they'd like to see in submissions, and a hell of a lot of them specify "women's fiction". Not really surprising, since women constitute a significant majority of purchases of fiction books.

Oh, yeah, and most of the agents specifying an interest in "women's fiction" are . . . women.

caw

kuwisdelu
05-20-2014, 06:49 AM
Pre-industrial families, and some modern cultures too, rely very heavily on extended networks of grannies, aunties, siblings and so on, and sometimes also the dad, to help with infant and child care. The nuclear family where mom is supposed to do it all herself is actually pretty modern western, isn't it?

Yep, and I'm a big believer in the "it takes a village" model.

There are many indigenous tribes that have no concept of the Western idea of an "orphan", because every child has many mothers and fathers, and many grandmothers and grandfathers, so they are never really without parents and family.

(Of course, that has broken down a lot these days with the Westernization of the world.)

WeaselFire
05-20-2014, 07:27 AM
From this came a movement to use more gender-neutral language. We would no longer assume that doctor must be male and secretaries must be female.
I argued this thirty-plus years ago and the argument is still the same. In common use, the word "man" has come to mean an individual male, or all humans of any sex. The fact that it's still argued today as being sexist is what makes it sexist.

I had a professor (women's studies, now that's a sexist class) a million years ago who vehemently argued that "manufacture" was sexist. Published a peer-reviewed work on that argument. When the basis of the word in Latin, "manus" has nothing to do with male or female properties. It comes from the term for hand, and "manufactured" translates roughly to "of the hand." In other words, made by a human, not found in nature.

When people stop having genders, then gender-neutral language is appropriate. Changing my use of words to change my attitudes on sexism is one of the things that emphasizes that sexism.

Race is the same. If you want to end racial bias, stop defining things by race. You want to have the votes of blacks and the votes of whites mean the same thing? Stop trying to get out the "black vote." Do away with the "black caucus." Stop calling Martin Luther King Jr. a great black leader. The guy happened to be a great American leader. His color made no difference to his leadership abilities and accomplishments.

And, for God's sake, stop naming the worst street in town "Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard."

Fighting to overcome anything that distinguishes people in any way, racism, sexism, religious mores, straight/gay, Democrat/Republican, etc. will always prolong the distinction of those differences.

Jeff

Viridian
05-20-2014, 08:16 AM
Fighting to overcome anything that distinguishes people in any way, racism, sexism, religious mores, straight/gay, Democrat/Republican, etc. will always prolong the distinction of those differences.

Sorry if this is derailing the thread, but... I've got a question for you, WeaselFire. I read a lot of Tamora Pierce's books when I was a kid. Tamora Pierce is a feminist and her novels contain a lot of very diverse, interesting female main characters -- she makes a lot of subtle points in her books, like how a woman's worth isn't based on her looks or ability to bear children, how both men and women can be evil, how a writing about a sexist society does not mean all female characters must be weak, ect. This influenced me strongly growing up, and I now hold a lot of those ideals myself.

So I guess my question is: do you think books influence the audience?

kuwisdelu
05-20-2014, 08:37 AM
I argued this thirty-plus years ago and the argument is still the same. In common use, the word "man" has come to mean an individual male, or all humans of any sex. The fact that it's still argued today as being sexist is what makes it sexist.

I never use "man" or "mankind" that way anymore. I always use "human" or "humankind".

And you know what? It feels damn good.


Race is the same. If you want to end racial bias, stop defining things by race. You want to have the votes of blacks and the votes of whites mean the same thing? Stop trying to get out the "black vote." Do away with the "black caucus." Stop calling Martin Luther King Jr. a great black leader. The guy happened to be a great American leader. His color made no difference to his leadership abilities and accomplishments.

Uhh, no.

Refusing to acknowledge race is just another subtle form of racism. It's erasure and denial.

The actual effect of pretending race doesn't exist is that everyone who isn't white is ignored, and everyone who isn't white and can't be ignored is white-washed and robbed of their heritage.

EMaree
05-20-2014, 11:12 AM
Race is the same. If you want to end racial bias, stop defining things by race. You want to have the votes of blacks and the votes of whites mean the same thing? Stop trying to get out the "black vote." Do away with the "black caucus." Stop calling Martin Luther King Jr. a great black leader. The guy happened to be a great American leader. His color made no difference to his leadership abilities and accomplishments.

As Kuwisdelu said, this is erasure, but addressing the bolded part: You really think his race made no difference to his accomplishments?

Look at a few things he was involved in: the Montgomery Bus Boycott, his struggle against segregation in Georgia, and his Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality. I think his race made quite a difference to how he was received at these events.

Martin Luther King Jr was a great black American leader, and his race should be a celebrated part of that.

In the same spirit, if a woman progresses to the top of any male-majority field (like IT, or, well... almost every single scientific industry) I will celebrate the fact that she's a woman as well as a leader in her field. Chances are very, very high that she had a much harder fight to get up there than a bloke in a similar position would have.

Roxxsmom
05-20-2014, 11:54 AM
I argued this thirty-plus years ago and the argument is still the same. In common use, the word "man" has come to mean an individual male, or all humans of any sex. The fact that it's still argued today as being sexist is what makes it sexist.

Actually, the use of man to refer to all of humanity has pretty much fallen out of use since the 80s. It's rare enough to hear the word "man" used generically to refer to all people that I notice it when it is (and it's almost always someone quite a lot older than I am doing it). In the same way, you don't hear fireman, policeman, chairman etc. being used in a gender-neutral way anymore. It's firefighter, police officer and chair.


I had a professor (women's studies, now that's a sexist class) a million years ago who vehemently argued that "manufacture" was sexist. Published a peer-reviewed work on that argument. When the basis of the word in Latin, "manus" has nothing to do with male or female properties. It comes from the term for hand, and "manufactured" translates roughly to "of the hand." In other words, made by a human, not found in nature.One person with a bone to pick who turned out to be wrong doesn't mean that all feminists who are concerned about sexism in language and how it both reflects and shapes our thinking are idiots.

And the reason for having women's studies department is because the roles and contributions of women have been given pretty short shrift in "mainstream" social sciences departments. One benefit of having feminist scholars, even if they're segregated in their own departments, is that there's been more interest and attention on the other half of the human race.


When people stop having genders, then gender-neutral language is appropriate. Changing my use of words to change my attitudes on sexism is one of the things that emphasizes that sexism.

This is your opinion, but there are plenty of people who beg to differ.


Race is the same. If you want to end racial bias, stop defining things by race. You want to have the votes of blacks and the votes of whites mean the same thing? Stop trying to get out the "black vote."

When different demographic groups are completely equal in terms of opportunity, experience, treatment, and socioeconomic status, then they'll likely have more similar voting patterns, and politicians will not be trying so hard to get out (or suppress) the black, white, Latino, elderly, youth, or female vote. Until this happens, there will continue to be noticeable differences in the voting patterns of different ethnic and cultural groups in the US, and between the genders.

I somehow don't think this will be happening any time soon.


Do away with the "black caucus." Stop calling Martin Luther King Jr. a great black leader. The guy happened to be a great American leader. His color made no difference to his leadership abilities and accomplishments.

And, for God's sake, stop naming the worst street in town "Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard."

Fighting to overcome anything that distinguishes people in any way, racism, sexism, religious mores, straight/gay, Democrat/Republican, etc. will always prolong the distinction of those differences.

JeffSo you're saying that by trying to fight racism and sexism, we're making it worse? I guess that's why racism and sexism weren't issues at all back in the good old days before the civil rights movement. :sarcasm
In any case, it sounds a bit like you're saying that people who aren't white or male should simply erase or ignore their identity or heritage. A lot of the time, this is code for saying that people of color should act more like white people and that women should act more like men (of course, when we do this, then we get called unnatural or uppity).

Once!
05-20-2014, 12:12 PM
I argued this thirty-plus years ago and the argument is still the same. In common use, the word "man" has come to mean an individual male, or all humans of any sex. The fact that it's still argued today as being sexist is what makes it sexist.

...

Fighting to overcome anything that distinguishes people in any way, racism, sexism, religious mores, straight/gay, Democrat/Republican, etc. will always prolong the distinction of those differences.



I don't think we are saying the same thing. I firmly believe that some gender-specific language is harmful, but some is positively beneficial. It is all to do with whether the language is supportive or negative.

It is certainly not easy. The meaning and acceptability of individual words changes over time, for example if a minority group tries to reclaim a term which used to be an insult such as "queer" or the n word. Even established terms have different meanings for different people. I had a girlfriend who preferred to be called "a woman of colour" rather than "black". I have seen people with mobility impairments argue with each other about whether they should be called "disabled people" or "people with disabilities" or "differently abled" or some other term.

Because it is not easy, many people are afraid of getting it wrong so they default into one of two "easy" ways out. At one extreme they say that anything which refers to a single gender or race is sexist or racist. People who take this view say that we must be 100% gender neutral. And that's when people start talking about "HIStory" and "MANkind" and "MANchester". Anything which includes the word "man" or "woman" is automatically sexist.

The other extreme "easy way out" is to say that it doesn't matter. There isn't a problem here. Let's call things by whatever we want. The old words are fine.

Frankly there is no consensus yet. We are still trying to work it all out. But that does not mean that (a) we must neuter all language or (b) we do nothing.

What seems to be emerging is a more complicated - some might say more sophisticated - way of looking at the question of race and gender. Gender specific language can be fine - as long as it is not used in a derogatory or negative sense. There is nothing wrong or sexist with studying women's or black history - as long as this is done to celebrate and understand and not to demean.

But equally we should not try to neuter our language so that we deny our history or our individuality. Men and women are different, in some respects delightfully so! The differences between races and genders should be celebrated, not hidden away or denied. Martin Luther King was a great leader who championed the rights of black people. We can't airbrush out the "black".

I have a very simple rule - if a term can be said with a smile and a sense of pride to somebody's face then it's probably not sexist or racist. If it said with a sneer behind someone's back then it probably is.

Bolero
05-20-2014, 12:45 PM
People of either gender who can be perfect parents are pretty darned rare, even in the modern western world with all our child psychology and baby books and choices about when and whether to become parents, and it was even rarer historically. And to be honest, maybe that's all right. Kids are resilient, so long as they're not abused, and I actually have some admittedly anecdotal opinions about the results of families being too child centered. I think Kids need to adapt to their parents as much as parents need to adapt to their kids. I'm not saying we should return to the old "Children should be seen but not heard" mentality (which certainly existed in many traditional mom-caregiver families), but mothers need to take care of their own needs too, or they'll start to resent their kids.


Life outside the family can hand out knocks. Parents teaching kids that they are paramount, whether accidentally or on purpose, isn't helpful. To be clear, I'm not advocating unkindness at all.
An example of what I mean: - I've done various group activities down the years, including one where bunches of us camped out - and there were plenty of families. Most were absolutely fine, one father was a pain as he tried to turn us all into his daughter's fan club. "Look what she's done, she's so clever." "Oh let her get to the front of the food queue, she's a child."



Pre-industrial families, and some modern cultures too, rely very heavily on extended networks of grannies, aunties, siblings and so on, and sometimes also the dad, to help with infant and child care. The nuclear family where mom is supposed to do it all herself is actually pretty modern western, isn't it?

And women have always had a ton of things they have to do besides child care in most cultures. Gathering food, crafting, working in the fields etc., and yes, often working in the family business or working at a job to earn money to supplement her husband's income (or to raise her kids on her own because she was widowed or unwed). And sometimes a younger sibling comes along too soon from the perspective of the first

Reading some social history - before the industrial revolution - in craft/farming families - the kids learnt to work alongside the parents at an early age. For family labour Guilds made an exception , to the rule that only guild members could work on whatever it was (bread, weaving, leather etc). It was also a common dynamic in craft families that the woman would go out to market, buying and selling, while the kids were with dad in the workshop. Most kids love imitating - so working alongside dad was probably fun for many of them. I have very early happy memories of helping father weed the garden.

Further on social history - before the industrial revolution, women were an important part of the family business, whether they worked in their husband's trade or brought their own. In craft families, a woman's trade skill was her dowry.
Come the industrial revolution, when you no longer worked at home, this value dropped off - it was either child-rearing or earning. With that the social standing of women dropped.

Likewise in the upper classes - at the same pre-industrial period the woman was often the estate manager, while the husband was off at court doing politics. Both were contributing to the wealth of the estate. There are surviving letters between husbands and wives as to how "business" was going.
For some reason, it then became increasingly fashionable for women to be decorative rather than hard working (other than child bearing). No idea why that happened in the upper classes, but it did. And we are all living with the aftermath of that.

Kylabelle
05-20-2014, 03:35 PM
*snip*
Gender specific language can be fine - as long as it is not used in a derogatory or negative sense. There is nothing wrong or sexist with studying women's or black history - as long as this is done to celebrate and understand and not to demean.

But equally we should not try to neuter our language so that we deny our history or our individuality. Men and women are different, in some respects delightfully so! The differences between races and genders should be celebrated, not hidden away or denied. Martin Luther King was a great leader who championed the rights of black people. We can't airbrush out the "black".

I have a very simple rule - if a term can be said with a smile and a sense of pride to somebody's face then it's probably not sexist or racist. If it said with a sneer behind someone's back then it probably is.

Yet we have another issue underlying the individual intent that might or might not be sneering or derogatory: the issue of institutionalized sexism (and racism etc.) What this does is build it in so deeply that, say, my mother can read to me from the Uncle Remus stories with no feeling at all of sneering anywhere to be found, yet that patronizing attitude is pervasive. It has simply come (at that time) to be so accepted as to be invisible. It takes someone not conditioned in that way to observe that it is derogatory. And then the whole conversation unfolds, and the process of sensitizing others who haven't yet noticed, or cared, about the problem.

The same is the case with the use of the word "man" to refer to all humans. We have a real reason to object to that. Like kuwi, I use the perfectly available and non-discriminatory term "humans" to refer to the human race of both genders.

Refocusing a bit on the topic of the term "Women's Fiction", I still feel that while its use is based, to some extent, in institutionalized sexist attitudes, it is also somewhat useful and descriptive and so not likely to be discarded.

Bolero
05-20-2014, 11:01 PM
Even the girl who likes to dress girly is someone to despise. Enjoying traditionally cis female things is so often considered something to sneer at in our modern age. I felt transgressive making a Pinterest page of gloriously "girly" things.

You're right. Hadn't given it any thought before, but definitely right. Yet another example of judging people by their appearances. The assumption that a very feminine look means that the person is embracing traditional feminine things - ie won't be a top flight nuclear physicist. Or less extreme, anyone woman dressing girly is not aiming for the top of their profession. Same with someone who acts girly.
Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Lee Johnson in the Closer - totally southern girlie, oh shoot, and as hard as nails on the inside. Part of the story is about the difference between the outside and the inside, and people's reaction to that.

For completeness, there is also the assumption that the scruffily dressed person, especially with tattoos is at least dim and may also be dangerous, whereas suits are respectable. We have so got to learn to get over how people look.

And saying "people" - that tends to be my preferred way of saying the gender neutral "humans". Or if speaking informally to a group of people - folks.

Roxxsmom
05-21-2014, 12:11 AM
Refocusing a bit on the topic of the term "Women's Fiction", I still feel that while its use is based, to some extent, in institutionalized sexist attitudes, it is also somewhat useful and descriptive and so not likely to be discarded.

That's my thought on it as well, but as usual, you put it ever so much more clearly and succinctly than I did.


Originally Posted by gingerwoman http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=8875708#post8875708)
Even the girl who likes to dress girly is someone to despise. Enjoying traditionally cis female things is so often considered something to sneer at in our modern age. I felt transgressive making a Pinterest page of gloriously "girly" things.A good point, and in a world that assigned no value to such things would simply let all people gravitate towards whichever style of self presentation suited them without judgement or stimgma, beyond whether or not they were neat, clean and coming off as professional.

Imagine how most companies would react if one of their male employees showed up in even a professionally tailored, no-nonsense skirt suit and a pair of pumps.

Now I don't particularly enjoy most stereotypically girly things most of the time, so to me, the expectation that I dress and act in a way that's considered "feminine" has been something of a burden. I identify as female, but to me, feminine doesn't mean pink ruffles and high heels (though I support and celebrate anyone of either gender who enjoys such things). Also, I also never had a strong desire for children, don't really get what's so appealing about babies in particular, and the thought of being pregnant always filled me with a vague sense of horror (all that vomiting). I've had people tell me I'm a head case for this, and that I'm obviously not a "proper" woman, and even that feminism has ruined me, because it disdains these normal female experiences.

I don't disdain them. I just never wanted them for myself.

So you can see why I'm prickly about people saying what's normal or natural for women as a group or making assumptions about what I will and won't like just because of my gender. That may be another reason "women's fiction" bugs me a bit.

LeslieB
05-21-2014, 05:27 AM
I have to be honest, I've never really spent any time looking at the Women's Lit/Fiction section in any bookstore that has one. From the covers and titles, the books always looked to me like they fell into two categories. 1 - The kind of story I would hear if I called Mom and asked her what was going on in my hometown. 2 - One of those books where all the characters sound like they just emerged, red-faced and screaming, from a something-studies class. Neither kind is my cup of tea.

Night_Writer
05-21-2014, 09:39 AM
I wonder what the options are. I mean, for people who don't like the label Women's Fiction, what else might you call it?

I've heard the term Matron Lit. That sounds even worse. I've also heard Hen Lit. Not crazy about that, either.

Maybe Domestic Lit? Homefires Lit?

I dunno. It does seem to be a genre unto itself, though. It does have recurring themes, like family life, or personal growth, etc. I don't like the term Women's Fiction either, but it's not because it may be sexist. It's because it doesn't describe the stories.

In Science Fiction we know we're going to get wild extrapolations on science. In Mystery, we can expect something mysterious. In a Spy Thriller, we can be certain of getting some variation of either James Bond or Maxwell Smart. In other words, the genre label describes the material itself. OTOH, Women's Fiction describes who the books are being marketed to. It does not describe the literature. The first time I heard the term, I had no idea what it was even about.

Not the best marketing, if some people don't even know what it is.

cornflake
05-21-2014, 09:44 AM
I wonder what the options are. I mean, for people who don't like the label Women's Fiction, what else might you call it?

I've heard the term Matron Lit. That sounds even worse. I've also heard Hen Lit. Not crazy about that, either.

Maybe Domestic Lit? Homefires Lit?

I dunno. It does seem to be a genre unto itself, though. It does have recurring themes, like family life, or personal growth, etc. I don't like the term Women's Fiction either, but it's not because it may be sexist. It's because it doesn't describe the stories.

In Science Fiction we know we're going to get wild extrapolations on science. In Mystery, we can expect something mysterious. In a Spy Thriller, we can be certain of getting some variation of either James Bond or Maxwell Smart. In other words, the genre label describes the material itself. OTOH, Women's Fiction describes who the books are being marketed to. It does not describe the literature. The first time I heard the term, I had no idea what it was even about.

Not the best marketing, if some people don't even know what it is.

Kind of the point is that you don't call it anything but fiction.

Same as Franzen or any of the other men who've been mentioned aren't listed under anything but fiction.

kuwisdelu
05-21-2014, 09:55 AM
Kind of the point is that you don't call it anything but fiction.

Same as Franzen or any of the other men who've been mentioned aren't listed under anything but fiction.

So we're discarding genres and categories altogether now?

That'll make finding stuff tough.

gingerwoman
05-21-2014, 10:36 AM
I wonder what the options are. I mean, for people who don't like the label Women's Fiction, what else might you call it?

I've heard the term Matron Lit. That sounds even worse. I've also heard Hen Lit. Not crazy about that, either.

Maybe Domestic Lit? Homefires Lit?

.
Hen lit meant Chick Lit with an older heroine. And Chick Lit is not Women's Fiction, though it might be a subset. Chick Lit is more Sex in the City, Bridget Jones Diary.
These terms you are using Domestic Lit, Homefires Lit they aren't what Women's Fiction is from the Women's Fiction I've read.
The books I've read that could be classed in this category had a lot of intellectual reflection on people's emotions with a lot of female characters. They aren't always focused on families to the point that I'd call them Domestic Lit or Homefire Lit.
Romance Writers of America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_Writers_of_America) defines women's fiction as, "a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others."
This is distinct from simply women's writing, or books by women, but it's not overly focused on family.

cornflake
05-21-2014, 10:59 AM
So we're discarding genres and categories altogether now?

That'll make finding stuff tough.

How are men who write about male character's lives categorized?

If it's not a mystery, sf, fantasy, or romance, why do we need a separate category for 'stories ostensibly for women,' when we don't apparently need one for 'stories ostensibly for men?'

Lillith1991
05-21-2014, 11:11 AM
So we're discarding genres and categories altogether now?

That'll make finding stuff tough.

I hope not. I want to know where to get my Asimov in the nearby book stores and library, thank you very much! Kinda handy having genre sections.

Roxxsmom
05-21-2014, 11:12 AM
I wonder what the options are. I mean, for people who don't like the label Women's Fiction, what else might you call it?

I guess it depends what it really is. Is it a marketing demographic like YA, where it's supposed to be written in a certain voice or style as well as having female protagonists, but can cross list with other genres? Is it a specific genre, where certain kinds of plots and settings are expected? Is it a category like Christian lit where there are different kinds of stories allowed, but only a relatively small subset of female experiences are considered suitable, and there needs to be a set kind of message or moral?

Or does it overlap so broadly with other genres that many of the books can and are also shelved in other sections of the bookstore?

I'll admit I like having genre sections too, as it makes it easier to find certain authors and kinds of books.

One thing that I thought was interesting last time I went to an actual physical bookstore was that they had YA SF and F in its own section. Some of the books I'd discovered years ago in the adult SF and F section were now shelved there, as were a lot of trade paperbacks by newer authors or by authors (mainly women) who used to write adult SF and F but now write for YA. But some books are shelved in both sections (this might be less likely in a smaller bookstore with less space for cross shelving).

There were also some books that didn't seem to me to belong in YA, as they didn't (strictly speaking) fit the criteria (maybe the protag was actually over 18 or else he/she aged out of the demographic during the course of the story).

I actually found a couple of books that looked interesting there, though I felt a bit sheepish browsing the section.

They were for my nieces and nephews. Honestly! :D

So maybe guys can browse the women's section to get books for their wives or girlfriends...

Lillith1991
05-21-2014, 11:14 AM
How are men who write about male character's lives categorized?

If it's not a mystery, sf, fantasy, or romance, why do we need a separate category for 'stories ostensibly for women,' when we don't apparently need one for 'stories ostensibly for men?'

I don't normally agree with you, but I see what you're saying and agree to some extent. Women's fictions makes stories "geered" towards women easy to find for those who like them, but most womens lit is lit fic or general fiction. While the other genres tell you exactly what you're expecting to get by name.

kuwisdelu
05-21-2014, 11:59 AM
How are men who write about male character's lives categorized?

If it's not a mystery, sf, fantasy, or romance, why do we need a separate category for 'stories ostensibly for women,' when we don't apparently need one for 'stories ostensibly for men?'

We don't need one for men because men dominate most genres.

Unfortunately, Women's Fiction is one of those paradoxes. Like African American fiction, GLBTQ fiction, etc.

Their existence is necessary because of sexism in the industry, to allow people to more easily find these otherwise marginalized stories.

Yet their existence is also used as a ghetto and a label and an excuse to dismiss them and books like them as somehow lesser.

Sexism makes them necessary, but as long as sexism in the industry persists, they will also be used in sexist ways.

As I said in my first post, I don't think it's a category that's sexist in itself, but it's definitely indicative of larger sexism in the industry, and it is naturally exploited by sexists in the industry to dismiss what they don't like.

Once!
05-21-2014, 01:19 PM
How are men who write about male character's lives categorized?

If it's not a mystery, sf, fantasy, or romance, why do we need a separate category for 'stories ostensibly for women,' when we don't apparently need one for 'stories ostensibly for men?'

Purely pragmatic reasons. The categories help us to find books and they help bookstores to sell books. Sometimes those categories refer to the subject matter (eg horror, sci fi, romance), sometimes they refer to the kind of person who might read them - women, children, YA, black, LGBT.

Sure there aren't categories of books named "men's books". As others have said, that category isn't needed - a description of genre is usually enough to find the book that you want.

But if you walk out of the bookstore and head for somewhere that sells magazines, you will find sections for men's issues - men's health, gadgets and ... ahem ... you don't need me to draw a picture of the rest. The magazine industry does use labels such as "men's health" because those labels help men to find the magazine that they want.

As a man, do I feel marginalised because a magazine shop has labels for men's issues? Not in the slightest. Men and women have different interests. It's something to do with testosterone and oestrogen, and upbringing and our environments and all that.

Why do we need categories for women's fiction when we don't need them for men? Presumably because it helps more women to find the books that interest them. In a profit driven industry, a label which does not connect customers to products would soon get changed.

cornflake
05-21-2014, 09:30 PM
We don't need one for men because men dominate most genres.

Unfortunately, Women's Fiction is one of those paradoxes. Like African American fiction, GLBTQ fiction, etc.

Their existence is necessary because of sexism in the industry, to allow people to more easily find these otherwise marginalized stories.

Yet their existence is also used as a ghetto and a label and an excuse to dismiss them and books like them as somehow lesser.

Sexism makes them necessary, but as long as sexism in the industry persists, they will also be used in sexist ways.

As I said in my first post, I don't think it's a category that's sexist in itself, but it's definitely indicative of larger sexism in the industry, and it is naturally exploited by sexists in the industry to dismiss what they don't like.

What? We're talking about non-genre (unless women's fic is a genre) works.

We're talking about the Jodi Picoult problem. This has nothing to do with men dominating most genres, which I don't even believe to be true, as there are certainly genres that I'd wager have more female writers than male and others in which I don't suspect there's a particularly significant gap.

Women's fiction isn't anything like specifically black fiction or LGBT fiction - while the argument can certainly be made that those should simply be shelved in fiction, the theoretical main target market (I'm not suggesting people not black or etc., would not enjoy or want the books, but that the main target market is theoretically thought to be the populations) for them is proportionally very small. The characters themselves, if the books center around them, are members of a minority population.

kuwisdelu
05-21-2014, 10:04 PM
What? We're talking about non-genre (unless women's fic is a genre) works.

Let's see...


Romance Writers of America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_Writers_of_America) defines women's fiction as, "a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others."
This is distinct from simply women's writing or books by women, but it's not overly focused on family.

Sounds like a genre to me.


We're talking about the Jodi Picoult problem. This has nothing to do with men dominating most genres, which I don't even believe to be true, as there are certainly genres that I'd wager have more female writers than male and others in which I don't suspect there's a particularly significant gap.

At most of the bookstores I go to, Jodi Picoult is shelved in General Fiction & Literature. I'm not sure I've ever actually seen a separate shelf for Women's Fiction. Certainly special displays sometimes, but rarely dedicated sections like you see for romance, sf, etc.

If critics and people in the publishing industry use "Women's Fiction" as a label to dismiss fiction written by women, that's a distinct (albeit related) issue from whether Women's Fiction (as a genre and term) is itself sexist. And yes, it definitely is used in that way, and that is sexist, but it's also a valid genre in its own right.


Women's fiction isn't anything like specifically black fiction or LGBT fiction - while the argument can certainly be made that those should simply be shelved in fiction, the theoretical main target market (I'm not suggesting people not black or etc., would not enjoy or want the books, but that the main target market is theoretically thought to be the populations) for them is proportionally very small. The characters themselves, if the books center around them, are members of a minority population.

I agree they're not the same. Black fiction and LGBT fiction are categories like YA rather than genres, while I think Women's Fiction is more of a proper genre. But I do think the situations are somewhat analogous.

Roxxsmom
05-21-2014, 11:19 PM
I'd be cautious assuming that the way things are currently being done in an industry always reflects the approach that is potentially the most profitable. It might be the case, but as another thread (the one on gender skewed marketing practices in SFF), some approaches might cost sales, but they could reflect inherent biases or perceived trade-offs publishers make. If marketing folks had ever hit upon the perfect strategy that maximizes profits in all situations, they wouldn't be constantly coming up with new ways of promoting and classifying things.

Cathy C
05-22-2014, 12:34 AM
Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
What? We're talking about non-genre (unless women's fic is a genre) works.

Let's see...

Quote:
Originally Posted by gingerwoman View Post
Romance Writers of America defines women's fiction as, "a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others."
This is distinct from simply women's writing or books by women, but it's not overly focused on family.

Sounds like a genre to me.



The thing is: writer organizations don't decide what is and isn't a genre. Booksellers and publishers do. What RWA (and SFWA, HWA and other such organizations) do is determine what elements of plot qualify for which contests. The RITA award for RWA separates categories that a book can be entered into. That doesn't mean that book IS that category or genre, because the RITA has categories that don't exist on the shelf. The categories for the RITA (http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=532) are:

Erotic Romance
Historical Romance
Inspirational Romance
Paranormal Romance
Romance Novella
Romantic Suspense
Young Adult Romance
Short Contemporary Romance
Best First Book

Now, an erotic romance could be shelved in romance, general fiction or literary. A paranormal could be shelved in romance, SF/F, or horror. In fact, a former winner of the RITA, Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair has never been shelved in romance. It's on the SF/F shelves. YA could be in romance or YA, or even in children's.

I'm not even positive that women's fiction is an actual genre. More likely, it's a grouping that culls from general fiction and romance to create a shelf of like-kind books.

So before we start ascribing the faults of the industry, let's make sure we're actually looking at what the industry does. :)

kuwisdelu
05-22-2014, 12:38 AM
The thing is: writer organizations don't decide what is and isn't a genre. Booksellers and publishers do.

Eh, just because something doesn't get it's own shelf in a bookstore doesn't mean it isn't a genre.

My favorite genre is Bildungsroman, and you sure don't see any shelves for that! It's still a genre.

Xelebes
05-22-2014, 02:56 AM
I wonder what the options are. I mean, for people who don't like the label Women's Fiction, what else might you call it?

I've heard the term Matron Lit. That sounds even worse. I've also heard Hen Lit. Not crazy about that, either.

Maybe Domestic Lit? Homefires Lit?

I dunno. It does seem to be a genre unto itself, though. It does have recurring themes, like family life, or personal growth, etc. I don't like the term Women's Fiction either, but it's not because it may be sexist. It's because it doesn't describe the stories.

In Science Fiction we know we're going to get wild extrapolations on science. In Mystery, we can expect something mysterious. In a Spy Thriller, we can be certain of getting some variation of either James Bond or Maxwell Smart. In other words, the genre label describes the material itself. OTOH, Women's Fiction describes who the books are being marketed to. It does not describe the literature. The first time I heard the term, I had no idea what it was even about.

Not the best marketing, if some people don't even know what it is.

Perhaps a Hestiaon?

Night_Writer
05-22-2014, 04:56 AM
Perhaps a Hestiaon?

LOL! Yeah, that'll keep the home fires burnin'.

Roxxsmom
05-22-2014, 05:28 AM
I vote for "Smeerp" fiction.