There have been some excellent posts recently about “romance shaming” and the battle that female authors have to be recognised and appreciated. Karin Kallmaker posted a series of great responses to an article published in the National Post, written by Jowita Bydlowska, that dismissed works in the romance genre as being lesser and lamenting that her novel wasn’t appreciated, as it should have been, by fans of these ‘lesser works.’
I’ve been sitting on a post for the past week about romance novels and cliché, but a series of very interesting articles about the romance genre made me reconsider my own viewpoint. The following is some of the thoughts that I have had about my reading habits in the past week.
I posted a comment to a very interesting blog about clichés that discussed which clichés readers enjoyed and abhorred, and I noticed that my response was solely about clichés I disliked in the romance genre – a genre I hardly read.
Honestly, I don’t read any romance, and the few I have read over the years have been ones set by my English professors. I value the genre as much as any other, I acknowledge that many of the greatest works of literature fall under the umbrella of romance, but I just haven’t enjoyed reading them. I read action novels, thrillers and books about men saving the world from nuclear disaster. It is possible that I will come to love the romance genre as I currently love thrillers, I have no idea where my interests are headed, and I like the mystery of the journey. I considered all of this evidence of not dismissing romance, and thought to myself – I’m obviously okay because I don’t hold romance in lesser esteem than other genres.
I WAS WRONG.
I’ve taken a critical look over my reading lists, and have been disappointed in myself. I may not read romance (which is fine!) but there was a more important group missing from my goodreads read list – female authors.
- Of the 24 books I’ve read this year so far, only 1 was written by a woman. (I disliked it because I chose to read from a genre I don’t usually enjoy.)
- Last year I read 4 books by female authors. FOUR. Two of the four were prescribed in my university reading list.
- I generally give lower ratings to female authors.
The above three points make me ill. They make me want to take action, however, I’m not about to read a bunch of classics written by women to fix this skew in my reading. I’ll rate them lower (I tend to rate classics on a more critical scale, genre fiction on level of enjoyment) and lead to more of point 3 occurring. Also, I want to help female authors in the now – the women who have written excellent books but can’t get a foot in the door because they are writing for male dominated genres.
I’ve never been asked to review my reading habits, and my excuse in my head for the imbalance in male vs. female authors, is that the genres I read are male dominated domains. Which is definitely true, you don’t see much military fiction or military non-fiction being written by women. But just because I don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I need to hunt out female authors who write in the genres I enjoy reading, and add them to my reading list. Not only will I get to explore more authors, but they will also gain a reader (and sometime reviewer), and although I personally won’t change anything for that author, maybe if enough people make the same decision, it would.
I’d also like to think more critically about the characters in the books I read. In ‘Death Force,’ a book I finished a week ago, the main character had a female love interest (it’s always hetero-normative too) and she made breakfast for a group of soldiers. All throughout the book the men had been making breakfast for one another, so this didn’t seem odd or offensive – it was the following line (and I’ve returned the book to the library so this isn’t a direct quote) that jumped out and slapped me in the face – ‘that it was good for the men to have a woman cook them breakfasts, because it was like a piece of normalcy.’ Like seriously, WTF. The mental picture of every man having a woman in the kitchen cooking him breakfast, as is her job? I hate it.
I’d like more female characters in the books I read to be complex, involved and strong. I don’t think of women in terms of men’s love interests, and that is how we are always portrayed in action novels. I’m not saying I only want to read female characters saving the world single handed-ly, but on occasion maybe we sould be given that honour. Only if it doesn’t inconvenience the worldview of the author, of course.
Other installments in Ranty Runt’s Rants:
The worst time to love a reader
My personal war on romance
Breaking a blogging slump
What a brave and honest post! “I need to hunt out female authors who write in the genres I enjoy reading, and add them to my reading list.” That’s a fabulous goal, and everybody should make an effort to do the same thing in the genres they enjoy.
There was a reading challenge just recently making the rounds suggesting that for the sake of opening our minds, maybe we could all go a year without reading straight, white male authors. It’s an interesting thought. Some people protested that it would be hard to find enough to read. But the books are there, just not as high in the search algorithms.
Karin, thankyou for the starting point and providing me with a gentle kick up the behind for looking at my own reading habits. I think because I’m used to being in male dominated arenas I just forgot that my reading habits is yet another place I allow that priviledge to go unchecked.
Maybe for the next twelve months I should allow myself to read four books by straight, white male authors, and the rest by more diverse authors, because I’ve had that skew in the opposite direction last year! I’m going to aim to read at least an equal amount of female authors to male… I’ve got to dig a bit deeper into those search functions, to find some new authors!
You might find this article interesting: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/06/self-publishing-lets-women-break-book-industrys-glass-ceiling-survey-finds?utm_content=buffera0c18&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
I’ve not read a lot at all recently, but most of my favourite authors are male. I do wonder how much of that is down to the fact that male writers are better promoted and less pigeon-holed.
I was shocked to realise all my favourite authors were men, but that didn’t bother me as much as that nearly all the books I was reading were by male authors. I think women authors really struggle outside of the romance genre – and then there are all the issues with the stereotypes of those who write/read romance. I’m not sure how I feel about self-publishing as a great way for women to ‘break the glass ceiling’ because most female authors don’t feature heavily in the (amazon) bestseller lists, even the independent ones! interesting article tho, thanks for sharing!
At least there is good news for you – there are loads of great female crime, mystery and thriller writers out there for you to choose from…Belinda Bauer, Elly Griffiths, Kate Atkinson, SJ Bolton, Karin Fossum, Karen Alvtegen, Susan Hill…the list is endless 🙂
It is so sad to admit that I’ve heard of none of those names! I’ll have to have a google search and expand my TBR! Thanks for the recs!
I asked a couple years ago if anyone could name me a single novel that had a female protagonist that didn’t ultimately meld into a romance story, whatever the book was about initially, and eventually become half about the romance, and no one could name me anything. And my feminist friends were stunned it had never occurred to them that novels like Moby-Dick never seem to happen for a female protagonist unless the she-Ishmael falls madly in love with Ahab and starts defining her action by her role as his female. I’d LOVE it of someone started a community list of books which feature women who grow beyond the romance story. 🙂
Jillian, you’re right on the money, as usual. There are so few female protagonists (and published female authors) in these genres of books- adventure, Sci-fi, thriller & crime. At least modern books are rectifying this inequality slowly but surely. Even books that aren’t about conventional relationships or go against the typical romance plot are still about love, marriage and children. I love books that subvert that (just finished the Awakening, which I loved. Also, my brilliant career by miles Franklin is an Aussie classic of the genre breaking type). I’d kill for a Moby Dick with female lead, and I would read the hell out of a list like that. I’d say I’d compose it, but I don’t think my reading is wide enough yet to even attempt it! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, hope you’ve been reading some great books recently.
Ha ha — my reading either! Maybe someone could create a community list or something, where we all add to it. I read a book called My Name Is Mary Sutter which does contain an “attraction” and love story, but refreshingly, this doesn’t distract the protagonist (at all) from her search for a career, and doesn’t take over the story. We’re GETTING THERE. Maybe. 🙂 I didn’t realize the Miles Franklin book broke the genre! Interested!!