Blog

Literary Genres and Gender: Discuss!

It took me a long time to write yesterday’s book review—partly because it was my first from an advance copy, partly because I didn’t like the book, and partly because I wasn’t sure how much my dislike of it was due to the book itself and how much was due to the type of book it is.

On the heels of seeing the “Designer’s Edition” of Scrabble, with its pink letters and its pink box emblazoned with the anti-competitive promise that “Every word is a winner!”, I’m reminded how touchy I am about products marketed specifically to girls and women because said marketing is so often demeaning. So, so often.

I play Scrabble to win, I like to watch movies that render me addled with fear, I have a healthy fascination with the apocalypse. I enjoy entertainment that makes me think, but I’m not terribly discriminating when it comes to what I end up thinking about.  I also prefer not to be in a constant state of pissed-off, which means I avoid books I’ll rail against as being stupid or poorly written (which don’t always go hand in hand, but you might have found it entertaining to be around me during the couple of days I spent reading the perfect storm otherwise known as The Da Vinci Code); I also avoid fiction that’s blatantly (intentionally or not) anti-feminist (unless, apparently, it’s Twilight, in which case I’ll read 2500 pages through to the end, waving my arms about and frothing at the mouth all the while). I consider it to be in my own best interest not to be pissed off about fiction when there’s so much to be pissed off about in real life.

Anyway. There I was unimpressed with The Girl Next Door, and due to my book-picking history I couldn’t tease apart the book from its genre, which seems to be women’s fiction. The book is clearly intended for a female audience, and I’d love to know if men read such books, too, and if so what they think. I’ve never read chick lit (which is a different category), so I can’t speak to it at all except to say I find the book covers (that reflect the marketing plans, that reflect the intended audience which I can only thusly assume is not me) unappealing and the blurbs uninteresting.

So, what is it with gender and genre?

As has become my habit, I started out my exploration by asking people on Twitter what they think.

picture-4.png

I was immediately amused, and noted the negativity surrounding chick lit. Is the negativity warranted?

Literary Genres and Gender: Discuss!Thanks, @Lyssistrata, @mmmfiber, @BuffaloGold, @littlefluffycat, @galateabot, and @carcosa!

What sorts of fiction do you prefer, and why do you prefer it? What do you think about fiction aimed toward women—be it women’s lit, chick lit, or what have you? What about fiction aimed toward men? Do you fit the marketing plan, whatever your sex or gender?

You know what, maybe I’ll delve a little into science fiction (typically aimed more at a male audience) and fantasy (typically aimed more toward women). Yes, I think a wee micro-study is in order. Got great recommendations? I’m hitting the road soon and can load up for a genre gender bender!

UPDATE: After some great comments regarding fantasy not being aimed just at women (so true! What was I thinking?!), I’m cutting sci-fi out of the wee study. It’ll be way more interesting (to me, at least) to look just at fantasy–books clearly aimed at women, books clearly aimed at men, and books that are more gender-neutral. Let me know what you recommend, and which category of those three it fits into! I’ll compile a list and will post it.


PS Don’t get me wrong, I totally like to be entertained in brain-off mode, too. Not usually from reading, but I love me a television teen melodrama and have a penchant for renting rom coms when I’m sick or exhausted.

You might be interested in …

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

32 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
April-Lyn Caouette

I don't find fantasy to be generally aimed towards women at all. In fact, most of the bad fantasy I read in middle school and high school felt more like it was aimed towards men: sword fights, sorcery, knights errant. And then there was the excessively sappy romance to appeal to the girls (and I'm sad to say it still works on me…) The (better) fantasy I read these days (I've gotten much pickier) doesn't feel gendered at all most of the time.

Anyways, some of my favorites in the genre(s):

– anything by Charles de Lint.
– Alphabet of Thorn and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip
– The Dark Tower series by Stephen King (I'm reading this right now)
– The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
– The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
– I'm going to assume that you've read books by Neil Gaiman
– Dune by Frank Herbert (I wouldn't bother with anything past the first one)
– The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
– Earthsea series by Ursula Le Guin
– the Dragonlance “Twins” and “Legends” series
– Wayfarer Redemption series by Sara Douglass (I've read 1-3, there are three more i can't vouch for)
– “Riddlemaster” trilogy by Patricia McKillip

Erm, sorry, that was a really long list. This makes me want to go actually write reviews on the books I've cataloged in goodreads so it might be useful to people other than me…

Elly

Anything by John Wyndham, especially The Kraken Wakes – superb post-apocalyptic British science fiction. Interesting (good for the time?) treatment of women, especially as it was written in the 40s/50s. There's an audio adaption of it somewhere online which is also good.

Kiba

I agree with April-Lyn: fantasy is most certainly not aimed primarily at women. It may be aimed more at women than sci fi is, but that's not hard to do. Wander the sff shelves at any bookstore and you'll see: many fantasy authors use their initials, and if you read a bit you'll discover a large number of those who do are women. Apparently, just having a woman's name on the cover is enough to drive some men away. Piers Anthony is my favorite author ever, and he writes both science fiction and fantasy. (He's made some attempts at lit fic as well… Not my thing.) His characters are almost always facets of himself. He gets both praise and criticism for his portrayal of women. The women in his stories are certainly always as intelligent and sometimes as strong as the men, but you always get the sense that there's a vaguely patronizing endearing quality to these women as well. I'm not sure though how much of that is actual sexism and how much is just being the father of two daughters. I think marketing directed at women is unlikely to actually capture the people it's meant to, and will alienate people (both women and men) who otherwise might like a game/movie/book/etc. I'm pretty sure I fit nobody's marketing plan. I love sci fi and fantasy, think it's fun when those cross over into chick lit (the vampire chick lit romance novel is a favorite subgenre of mine – like if Bella had a personality!), and I go back and forth on whether or not I like a good love story. Tanith Lee's Piratica is a fine example of a time when I thought the love story was a BAD IDEA – hastily done and moved into a central position… Read more »

blondechicken

I like how April assumes you've read everything by Neil Gaiman! If you haven't, I'd start with American Gods, then Anansi Boys, then Neverwhere (I'm 'meh' about Neverwhere). He's one of those authors whose books don't feel at all aimed at a gender and yet boys get all in-love when you mention you like him. It's like a badge of honor in some sub-cultures!
A really very funny, quick read is Good Omens – Terry Pratchett AND Neil Gaiman

April-Lyn Caouette

Haha, I didn't assume she'd read *everything* by him (that would be a tall order), but something. At the very least she's read his tweets!

In addition to the above, I recommend Coraline. (I'd like to be able to recommend The Graveyard Book but I haven't been able to find a copy anywhere.)

GinkgoKnits

My preferred reading seem to be knitting books . . . but maybe that's b/c I'm lucky to have a library with lots of good ones. Library reading choices can be very different from bookstore choices.

If I buy a book, it tends to have literary pretensions. Also, I can't comment on fantasy/sci-fi because the stuff I like most tends to be at least several decades old (my fav, Heinlein, Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

But, the more stress/sick/tired I get, the less I want to read serious things.

jenny

I read the Da Vinci Code in college while I was taking a literary theory class, and it was incredible to be able to read a book that I enjoyed at the time and simultaneously realize how sexist it was. I actually ended up writing a paper about it. Especially because stupid Dan Brown likes to talk like he's valuing “the feminine” with his putting Mary Magdalene on the pedestal, and yet just like everyone else his female characters don't do anything. Don't get me started on Da Vinci Code!!

I also play Scrabble to win! But the thing that frustrates me most about these chick lit/women lit/anything aimed at WOMEN is how they make me ashamed or make me want to deny the aspects of me that align with female stereotypes. I like babies and kittens and the color pink, and I don't want to be ashamed of that because it lines up with the commercial box that women are put in, but I am a rebellious person by nature so it creates a dilemma for me. Do I rebel against the pink or against the commerciality of someone using the color to represent womanhood to sell me something? I think I just need to go the way of Johnny Cash and be the Woman in Black.

tintocktap

Never have and never will read chick lit. For 'literary' fiction and sci fi try Iain (M) Banks.

knitgrrl

I'll reiterate what I've said to you in the past, Kim, and recommend Terry Pratchett's books. The Tiffany Aching books (The Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith) are particularly good in that they're from a female point of view and even though the character in question is young, she's got her head screwed on straight, and has an older female role model, even. Plus, for the topic trifecta, there's sheep!

She's no Bella, that's for sure.

knitgrrl

(Agreed on Good Omens, by the way!)

Miriam

Classics:The Original Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. (Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons on Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning are the original series. You can really skip the rest. The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist (Magician Apprentice/Magician Master- used to be one book, but now 2-, Silverthorn, A Darkness at Sethanon) I have all of these in the author's preferred edition if you want to borrow them. Memory, Sorrow, Thorn Trilogy by Tad Williams (The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower) The Saga of Recluse by L. E. Modesitt (more books than I care to list, but starting with The Magic of Recluse) The Belgariad by David Eddings (Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician's Gambit, Castle of Wizardry, Enchanters' End Game) Youth Classics:The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr) are the good ones. High Fantasy: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, unfinished series….) The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, Lord of Chaos, A Crown of Swords, The Path of Daggers, Winter's Heart, Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams, unfinished series, but the last 3 books will be written by Brian Sanderson since Robert Jordan died) “Feminist” Fantasy: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley The Wayfarer Redemption Series by Sara Douglass (Sinner, Pilgrim, Crusader) Sword Dancer Saga by Jennifer Roberson (haven't read all of them yet, but working on it) My Favorites: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is an absolutely amazing book! I would count… Read more »

Molly

I may be in the minority here, but I think there is good chick lit out there. Most of it is light, escapist fluff, but I don't think it all portrays women frivolously or negatively (thought admittedly, some does). Relationships with men usually play a role, but in the best of it, these relationships are either a subplot or a vehicle of self-discovery rather than the ultimate focus of the book.

Alex

Piers Anthony has a Science Fiction series: The Apprentice Adept Series (I haven't read these)

and a hugely popular Xanth (fantasy) series, which I have read, and they are fabulous.

Also, he has an Incarnations of Immortality series, which I've not read either, but are a fantasy focusing on the King Arthur legends.

You could also check out Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, which I've not read, but the t.v. spinoff, Legend of the Seeker, has some pretty strong archetypes in them, and most of the time flips the roles on their heads.

If you're looking for sci-fi t.v. shows, look at Star Trek and alot of their episodes (old and new) that deal with gender and such. Sci-fi is a powerful place for exploring different roles of men and women because they allow you to project into the future and do things that aren't socially acceptable to do currently.

Miriam

High Fantasy is epic, world-based fantasy. Like Tolkein, etc… a whole host of characters that live in a fantasy world. There is usually more explanation about the history of the created world, and the physics of the magic.

This is opposed to Sword and Sorcery fantasy which, while it has the same fantasy elements, focuses on a few characters, with less attention paid to the world-building, and more about personal goals or quests for the characters.

Mists of Avalon is sometimes VERY boring, I agree, but I love it anyway :D It was a much better audio book than a paper-read.

M

Miriam

On a Pale Horse is the first book of the Incarnations of Immortality and it is AWESOME! A quick read too.

Goodkind's Sword of Truth is good for the first few books, but then becomes a sort of Rand-ian Anti-Communist propaganda machine, which sort of sucked the fun out of it. I read all of them because I loved the characters, but the writing and story flow went downhill fast.

Miriam

Also meant to say, Incarnations of Immortality is not arthurian, from the wikipedia page for it “The first seven books each focus on one of seven supernatural “offices” (Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil and Good) in a fictional reality and history parallel to ours, with the exception that society has advanced both magic and modern technology”

In On a Pale Horse, the book begins with a kid trying to commit suicide. He's got a gun to his head, and then Death shows up, so he shoots Death instead and then takes on the role and becomes Death. It was awesome.

April-Lyn Caouette

“Solstice Wood” by Patricia McKillip is about fantasy AND knitting! :D

Molly

Maybe try Jennifer Weiner? In Her Shoes is about two very different sisters struggling to figure out who they are and what their relationship means to each of them; Little Earthquakes is about several women getting through pregnancy together. Men complicate the situations in both books, but the focus is on the women: their own self-discovery as well as their relationships with each other.

kristi

A couple scattershot comments: I have tried to read both fantasy and sci-fi with a fairly open mind and really have little stomach for either. I have never read a book that featured a vampire as a main character (or even a minor character!). I really like fiction with good, deep characters and too often I find that sci-fi devotes much of it's time building it's gadgetry and fantasy spends too much time building it's imaginary world and creatures. I don't give a damn about the squalloping zatschbot unless he's got a compelling relationship with the other characters and actually needs to be there! There's good fiction that's plot driven of course, I think, but that's not really my cup of tea. That said, the sci-fi I've enjoyed has been stuff like Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem, fantasy-wise it lived and died with a brief pre-adolescent obsession with Madeleine L'Engle.

What do I read? Honestly, I read mostly non-fiction these days. About fibercraft, but more about food or travel, or best when there are people eating in foreign places and writing about it. M.F.K Fischer, Paul Theroux, Peter Mayle. For fiction, what I really love to read is a well-crafted short story. Try Cortazar, Borges, Paz, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Welty…

kristi

And oh yeah… Most fiction is aimed at women. Men do a startlingly small amount of fiction book buying. I heard the number once and was shocked. But I can't remember it now. It may all be sci-fi, though.

kristi

Okay, here it is. Can't walk away from an empirical fact finding mission!

“Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market, according to surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and Britain.”

Here's the story: “Why Women Read More than Men”
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?st

marikka

Although I recognize that a number of the Twitter definitions for chick lit were meant as humorous, there's an underlying issue that many actually see chick lit as one tiny step above romance novels (which appear to be increasing in popularity right now), and in that same vein, we're treating women's fiction as one step above chick lit. All of this is terribly unfair. It's a commentary on worth instead of a commentary on content. Two things that chick lit and romance have in common are the elements of romance and fantasy. Two things women's lit and chick lit have in common are a focus on women and women's issues and a dose of reality. A Venn diagram is needed to describe them, they aren't separate and varying in value, they're similar but with different perspectives and motives. Chick lit is comedic and used to just be young, single women in the big city looking for love, but as it's become popular it isn't just that anymore. The quality stuff (Jennifer Weiner and Melissa Banks, both who are equally in the women's lit bunch) is more than that, it's honest and sincere, and although it makes you laugh, it's not evil and anti-feminist, it's just a lighter perspective on being a woman. The bad stuff should be ignored, much like the bad SF, fantasy, horror, and “general fiction”. For whatever reason, chick lit always seems to be defined by the bad stuff, and few listen to you if you try to counter that it can be good. When it comes to the defense of chick lit, I've always looked to Ed Champion and Jennifer Weiner, and the Bat Segundo episodes with Weiner are awesome to listen to just to hear a real conversation on the issue. And I just wrote… Read more »

Mom

My concern with the tiny niche of chick lit -or any other niche- is that it is dominated by market analysis. Chick lit seems to be aimed at grown-up women who loved “The Babysitters' Club books when they were budding adolecents and who are presumed never to have become more sophisticated readers. Years ago I read an interview with the T.B.C. author, herself a Scholastic, Inc. editor. I was appalled to learn that she set her alarm early each morning to write for exactly 2 hours before another alarm tells her to get ready to go to work; so much for inspiration and creativity. These books are really “fill in the blanks” with appropriate sterotypical characters and plot.

Jennie C.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card has been described “as a kind of science fiction gateway drug” – I've given it to men and women alike and have never found anyone who didn't love it.

Libelula

I love reading chick lit and have even dabbled in a bit of mills & boons here & there. t's about balance, not whether chick lit is inferior. It's fun and light, and in my teens I did find chick lit quite helpful with what was going on in my head. However I have gotten much more selective since then, so possibly you do need to turn your brain off and your wish fullfilment on. I find nighttime the best time for suspension of disbelief as that is when I can almost never put a book down and will simply not be annoyed by obvious plot twists and the like. I
I normally read sci-fi, historical romance and science books. I've never found fantasy to be more focused towards women in comparison to sci-fi. In fact there are very few fantasy books that I can stand reading, despite the similarities in the genre. I think this is just a misperception of the more often than not male authors as well as the rapid change in perception of what is considered feminine and masculine.
As for good thought provoking reading that covers women's lit and genre, I would recommend Angela Carter. A modern (mostly gothic) fairy tale writer with a modern feminist twist of the highet quality.

32
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x