Women Don’t Read (Insert Lie Here)

There’s a term that makes me shudder every time I hear it: women’s fiction. Another one I hate: chick-lit. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the books themselves. I have a stack of them scattered across my bookcase with beautifully cracked spines, betraying how often they’ve been re-read. Some of my favourite authors live in that genre too, ironically both male and female writers. But my reading habits don’t stop there. Neither do my friends. And ‘shh… don’t tell anyone’ but I know plenty of guys who enjoyed Bridget Jones Diary and Crazy Rich Asians – and no I’m not talking about the movies. So what’s with the separation?
The idea that women only read certain kinds of books is ridiculous. Especially as women read more fiction than men. It’s true. Statistically, we do. We buy the majority of novels sold and (in more normal times) outnumber men at libraries, literary festivals and book clubs. So how come the best-sellers lists aren’t totally composed of ‘women’s fiction’? Without a specific term of their own, we can only assume ‘men’s fiction’ must include all the other classifications — crime, speculative, satire, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. And as each one of them continues to sell well, we must be sneaking fiction outside of our designated genre into our TBR piles.
Worst of all, chick-lit and ‘women’s fiction’ have also become by-words for ‘less important literature’. It’s insulting to not just their authors, but the readers who enjoy the books too. Many people consider Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to be one of the greatest books ever written, and I agree with them. But although it’s one of my favourite extended reads, I also think its plot and themes mirror so many stories that are derided as just ‘something for the ladies to enjoy’. I don’t care how aristocratic the characters are, the book’s eight-hundred-plus pages are bursting with domestic squabbles and problems most of us can relate to.
Maybe the wrapping up one specific area of story-telling as ‘women’s fiction’ is the reason why people often overlook the contribution women have made to literature outside of the label. J. K. Rowling frequently appears on best fantasy author lists, Agatha Christie too is rarely missing from crime writer top tens; but Susanna Clarke and Patricia Highsmith are often over-looked in the same genres… and they’re not the only ones. Science fiction in particular is viewed as the realm of male readers, but *spoiler alert* the earliest accepted works of science fiction were written by women – Margaret Cavendish way back in 1666, and more famously Mary Shelley in 1818.
Fiction is universal, that’s the beautiful thing about it. We celebrate all rare birds here whatever they write about, because good fiction transcends labels. Keen to dispel the myth that female reading and writing could ever be contained in one section of a bookshelf; we’ll be shining a light on the women that disrupted male dominated areas of fiction with their bad-ass writing over here on our blog. So, don’t forget to come back and visit us here soon…