Is literature by women limited compared to lit. by men (if yes, how so)?

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Is literature by women limited compared to lit. by men (if yes, how so)?

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1LolaWalser
Jun 13, 2014, 2:09pm

Ancient or contemporary or both, regional or global (and adjusted for the historical domination of male authors, so not in absolute numbers of titles)--are women tackling fewer themes than men? Exhibiting less stylistic variation? Any other point of comparison?

2amysisson
Jun 13, 2014, 4:28pm

I think this is a very interesting question, but I'm not sure how possible even anecdotal answers are. Someone would have to be keeping very detailed records of what they read. I don't think relying on a general impression would be very reliable.

3LolaWalser
Jun 13, 2014, 4:41pm

Oh, I think it's all about nothing better (more precise) than general, and very personal, impressions and opinions.

4rebeccanyc
Jun 13, 2014, 6:26pm

I need some time to think about this, but it's a great question. My off the cuff answer would be "yes and no".

5LolaWalser
Jun 13, 2014, 8:04pm

>4 rebeccanyc:

Well, now you'll HAVE to elaborate. :)

I don't offer an opinion because I don't have one (maybe because of the problems Amy mentioned). But I have heard this often enough--that literature by women is somehow "parochial"--that I want to hear what others think.

6sweetiegherkin
Jun 14, 2014, 9:32am

Of course this is completely anecdotal and based solely on my own reading (which does, however, cover many time periods, genres, etc.), but I don't think books by women versus books by men differ radically in terms of themes so much as in terms of perspectives. Every author brings a unique perspective but if we read only male authors (or on the other hand, if we read only female authors), we lose out on seeing something through another's eyes. Over on Girlybooks, someone else mentioned something about how the way female characters are drawn is *generally* largely different when the book is written by a woman (i.e., more fully actualized characters that resemble real people rather than broad caricatures). I think that is certainly the case in more literary works by women writers but not necessarily true in all genres (for instance, romance novels often have stock characters - both female and male).

For what it's worth, I also think that there is a huge and necessary distinction between "women's fiction" (a genre akin to "chick lit") versus books written by women. The former will more than likely display fewer themes than the entire body of literature written by men, but the latter will not.

7southernbooklady
Jun 14, 2014, 10:58am

>6 sweetiegherkin: For what it's worth, I also think that there is a huge and necessary distinction between "women's fiction" (a genre akin to "chick lit") versus books written by women.

How come when a man writes a novel about a man going through a midlife crisis it's considered "fiction" but when a woman writes a novel about a woman going through a midlife crisis it's "women's fiction"?

8LolaWalser
Jun 14, 2014, 11:53am

Seconding question... although I suppose it's rhetorical. We always run into the same old toxic notion: man is THE human, a woman is just a "special" case.

9rebeccanyc
Jun 14, 2014, 5:58pm

>5 LolaWalser: Trying to elaborate. :)

I think if you look at everything women write, they probably tackle much the same themes as men. On the other hand, I think more women write a certain kind of what I would loosely call "domestic" fiction than men do; for example, I just finished a book (Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden) that I couldn't imagine being written by a man. So maybe what I think is that women explore MORE themes than men do.

I've certainly read fiction by men in which the female characters aren't as well developed as the male characters, but I've also read fiction by women in which the male characters are less well developed than the female. Also, since I read a lot of older fiction, I have to try to see the women in terms of the roles they filled at that time, not how we would like to see them now.

But all of this is a generalization. I think I really read and try to evaluate each book on its own merits, and I think it's really hard to come up with any meaningful way to analyze this very interesting question.

10sweetiegherkin
Edited: Jun 14, 2014, 6:37pm

> 7, 8 It's not been my understanding that the definition of "women's fiction" is books about midlife crises. Rather one literary agent describes "women's fiction" books as "relationship stories, generational sagas, love stories" (quote taken from this rather random website). There are probably books about women having midlife crises that don't fit the parameters of "women's fiction" but are more literary efforts or something else altogether. But at any rate, I think Lola hints the nail on the head that the thought process is that women are just a special case / variant of the norm.

edited because I bone-headedly messed up the html tag.

11LolaWalser
Edited: Jun 14, 2014, 6:51pm

>9 rebeccanyc:

Yes, every time I try to formulate a general opinion I think of half a dozen specific counter-examples.

There also must be some effect of historical skewing of authors' genders--since most writers were male until very very recently, most books by women tend to be relatively modern--and every period favours different styles and preoccupations.

One thing that strikes me, for instance, is that women didn't seem to go for "Dickensian" novelistic panoramas--oodles of curious characters glancing off each other in tortuous plots as if in a pinball machine. But, if that's well observed, how can one tell whether that was because they "could not" write such novels or because they were somehow discouraged from doing so?

>10 sweetiegherkin:

What's funny is that men write "relationship sagas and love stories" ALL THE TIME.

12nohrt4me2
Jun 16, 2014, 10:53am

How come when a man writes a novel about a man going through a midlife crisis it's considered "fiction" but when a woman writes a novel about a woman going through a midlife crisis it's "women's fiction"?

Really? Is there a special section in most bookstores marked "women's fiction"? Is there a special area in Dewey or Lib of Congress systems that single out "women's fiction"? Or is this something that some critics do?

FWIW, one of the things that bugs me about the New York Times book section is that books about women characters are almost always given to women to review. (One recent notable exception was Stephen King's review of Joyce Carol Oates.)

13southernbooklady
Jun 16, 2014, 10:56am

>12 nohrt4me2: Or is this something that some critics do?

It is something that marketing departments do.

14sparemethecensor
Jun 16, 2014, 11:26am

>12 nohrt4me2: Is there a special section in most bookstores marked "women's fiction"?

Yes. I can't recall a bookstore near me (NY) that does not have this. I distinctly recall when Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad came out, it was placed among chick lit and romance novels until she took to the internet to complain about treatment of her work compared to men (example: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen) at which time it was moved to "new fiction."

15nohrt4me2
Jun 16, 2014, 7:11pm

>13 southernbooklady: Yes, marketers trying to maximize sales do their voo doo studies to see what's going to fly best. That could be an interesting paper for one of my students some term ...

>14 sparemethecensor: Wow! Not doubting your word at all, but but I'm in Michigan, which is brain draining at a rapid pace, and I've never seen this at the bookstores I go to (though maybe it's b/c people can't spell "women").

16southernbooklady
Jun 16, 2014, 7:23pm

>15 nohrt4me2: I think it's spelled "womyn" :)

17sparemethecensor
Jun 17, 2014, 7:33am

>15 nohrt4me2: Let me officially declare, good for Michigan. Perhaps you have better bookstores. The few that remain near me are behemoths (Barnes and Noble) -- we only have one independently run bookstore, and it's obsessed with the Long Island Medium, so not a pillar of intellectualism.

18nohrt4me2
Jun 17, 2014, 11:18am

We had a B&N, but it went out of biz in my area. We have Schuler Books, an indie chain, which seems to be doing OK, with two outlets in the metro area where I live.

19sturlington
Jun 23, 2014, 10:05am

The demise of the big chains around here seem to have actually made way for a wonderful independent bookstore to open in Chapel Hill (NC), which had been without one for years. It is called Flyleaf Books and it has a truly amazing selection of good books, plus lots of book-related events. And no women's fiction section! (Although it is very sparse on science fiction, and it tends to lump in all sorts of things under that heading that do not belong.) I support it regularly, despite owning a Kindle.

20lilithcat
Jun 23, 2014, 10:41am

> 12

I've never seen a bookstore with a "women's fiction" section!

21southernbooklady
Jun 23, 2014, 11:11am

>19 sturlington: The demise of the big chains around here seem to have actually made way for a wonderful independent bookstore to open in Chapel Hill (NC), which had been without one for years.

Before Flyleaf---which is a great store with a very savvy owner-- there was The Intimate Bookshop, which did not survive the heydey of the big box chain store boom.

22sturlington
Edited: Jun 23, 2014, 11:14am

Ah yes, I remember The Intimate well from my childhood/adolescence. I applied for a part-time job there many times but they never would hire me.
:-( They had wonderful wooden floors.

I think we are fortunate in the Triangle because every one of our towns seems to have a wonderful indie bookstore: Quail Ridge in Raleigh, The Regulator in Durham, Flyleaf in Chapel Hill, and McIntyre's in Pittsboro. I'm happy browsing through any of these. Even my own Hillsborough has a tiny bookstore, although I prefer making the slightly longer drive to Flyleaf.

23southernbooklady
Jun 23, 2014, 11:20am

North Carolina is a great state for bookstores. I work for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and we have more member stores in NC than in any other state--even Florida.

http://stars.authorsroundthesouth.com/venue/statesort

24sturlington
Jun 23, 2014, 11:22am

That's awesome and something I didn't know!

25nohrt4me2
Jun 23, 2014, 4:45pm

>20 lilithcat: I'm sorry for you.

26Limelite
Jun 27, 2014, 12:26pm

It occurs to me that war novels and spy/action/thrillers are nearly the only niches where women writers aren't found or are (blessedly) rare. Yet, in another thread whose topic is The Luminaries, I observed that (NZ) and British women writers far outshine their male counterparts.

I'm thinking of the late Dorothy Dunnett and the living likes of Brookner, Byatt, Mantel, and Rowling to name names off the top of my head.

Not sure if the American heavens are similarly spangled. But Oates, Morrison, Nicole Krauss, Marilynne Robinson, and Kingsolver hold their own against the likes of Richard Ford, Kent Haruf, Ivan Doig, Chabon, and Russo.

Don't you think?