I Hate Women’s Fiction And I’ll Tell You Why

I Hate Women's Fiction, And I'll Tell You Why

Hey, you! Yes, you there, with the marketing degree! Or you, Creative Director with that massive advertising agency. Hell, even you, person who spends more time than is healthy shouting at the TV when terrible ads come on, because you could do better. (Four monkeys with bad head colds could do better, you admit, but that’s not the point.)

I have a job for you. Are you ready? Good.

You have no time whatsoever, and 55% of a regular marketing budget, to repackage Women’s Fiction, and sell it to the reading masses as something which is just as good as Men’s Fiction.

Because, well – you know Men’s Fiction, right? The genre listed on all the annual bestseller round-ups? You can see it right there, can’t you? Just underneath the 74th biography of Steve Jobs – which is listed as a ‘Biography’ – you can see it. It’s in the top ten. It’s written by a man. And it’s listed as ‘Men’s Fiction’.

Except of course it isn’t. Because Men’s Fiction isn’t even a thing.

Most booksellers (except Amazon) pretend that Women’s Fiction isn’t a thing, either, by not specifically listing it as such, because they know it’s patronising and insulting to female readers, who make up a significant majority of the reading public. But just try, as a female writer, to sell a book to an agent or publisher and get away from the term ‘Women’s Fiction’. You can’t. Because behind the official lists, it’s the biggest genre there is.

I Hate Women's Fiction, And I'll Tell You Why

I’m on this current box of detergent primarily because of the buzz around the film Brooklyn, which opened last week, starring Saoirse Ronan, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent, amongst others. It’s based on a book by Colm Toibín, a longtime literary darling of this parish. It’s about a young woman who emigrates from Ireland to New York in the 1950s. It’s about her life and her loves, her duties and her choices. The book was a smash hit. It was lauded from here to the washing machine and all the way back to the arts review. The film looks like it’s going that way too. It’s all very lovely, really. Except I have a problem.

If Brooklyn had been written by a woman, would it have been a smash hit? Would it now be an internationally distributed film? And would anyone have cared one whit for a story about a young woman and her domestic struggles, if that young woman had been created and written by another woman?

I don’t think they would. My belief is that even if Anne Enright had written it, it would have been seen as a lady’s story. For ladies.

I’m not trying to take away from Toibín’s status as a writer of considerable skill and intuition. But I do have a fundamental problem with the fact that if a man writes a book which has within it themes such as love, marriage, family and anything even vaguely domestic, it is Literary Fiction; but when a woman writes about the same issues, it is immediately labelled Chick-Lit.

If she’s very lucky, and her actual writing is considered to be above average, she gets upgraded to Women’s Fiction, which is a bit like flying business-class with a budget airline. The seat is still too small, and everything still costs extra, but an attendant at least makes the effort to patronise you on the way out.

I Hate Women's Fiction, And I'll Tell You Why

Even if she’s writing about war, mental illness, abuse, disappointment, or iron-mongering; even if her prose is so beautiful that it leads three politicians to vow never to sin again; even if nobody has ever mapped human frailty before with such devastating wit – just as soon as she sticks any romantic plotline in there at all, it becomes Women’s Fiction.

Why? Why is any book written by a woman, containing two or more people who feel unquantifiable positive emotions about each other, automatically classified within the greater Romance category? Why does this happen when the relationship between these characters is only one factor driving a more complex plot?

More importantly, why are books written by women about feelings, or family, automatically marketed as books which only other women will want to read?

And yet there is hope: a few genres have managed to climb out of this murky stereotyping. Crime / Thriller fiction by women has been kicking some serious ass lately. Young Adult Fantasy generally doesn’t sell along hard gender lines either, and Historical Fiction very often doesn’t care whether the one wielding the pen has a Y chromosome or not. But somewhere along the line, General Fiction has somehow become Genderal Fiction. And female authors are battered from it.

And so, to those who didn’t answer the call to arms in the first paragraph (good grief, you must have no horror of poor advertising, but I’ll bet you’re happier) I make a different request of you.

Stop saying ‘Women’s Fiction’. Please. You’re killing us.

I Hate Women's Fiction And I'll Tell You Why

  158 comments for “I Hate Women’s Fiction And I’ll Tell You Why

  1. Jack Tyler
    November 12, 2015 at 7:58 am

    You may consider it done! One of my favorite things to do is to support women. I’ll bet something good will come of it some day…

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 9:18 am

      It’s already doing you good, Jack. It’s just that it hasn’t emerged from the underground yet 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 13, 2015 at 7:57 pm

        But Women’s Fiction is not defined by the author. It is defined by the content: it’s invariably about a female central character, her relationships. Her struggles, her inner growth, her maturing through whatever she experiences throughout the story; and those who write it understand this. I really don’t think there is an equivalent for men. it’s also useful as a category… it helps readers find the books they want to read. Men may write it too – Nick Alexander, for example. I’m not aware that Nick’s books are regarded as more worthy that those by female Women’s Fiction authors …. and if they were, so what? Perhaps I’m at that age where I don’t really care what others think. I write Women’s Fiction, and I read it, and I see no need to change, just because some people don’t like the label. If the label offends someone then perhaps they should just stay away from it. But it exists.

        Liked by 2 people

        • November 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm

          Hi, Lamaha. This is discussed several times in the earlier comments below, but I was making a different point, that a man writing about a female central character in this instance is writing literary fiction; a woman writing the same subject matter would be labelled as women’s fiction. In this case, content is overruled by the author. Colm Toibin wasn’t setting out to write women’s fiction, & neither was he labelled as such.

          Again, it comes back to my first point. If stories about men are not labelled as men’s fiction, there should not be a women’s fiction label either.


          • November 14, 2015 at 7:40 am

            Well, I haven’t read this book and haven’t got the time to do research, but I do know that literary fiction is in part defined by quality of writing; and since many women writers DO get classified as literary – and thus get shortlisted for major prizes – I’m finding it hard to agree with you 100%. Literary always transcends genre/content. It’s easy to say “this wouldn’t happen if the writer were female” – but we don’t really know. What we do know is that female writers DO win major literary prizes, female writers are often top the bestseller lists, books by female writers DO get made into movies. I’m not sure what the dividing line is between commercial and literary fiction, but there are successful women on both sides of it.
            What I find far more worthy of note is the paucity of BAME ( black and minority ethnic) authors and characters promoted in the media, including major book blogs such as Novelicious – and I DID do a bit of research there. Books and authors are 99% lily white. Are there really no good BAME authors around? No novels with BAME main characters? I’d like to see someone exploring that subject.


            • November 14, 2015 at 10:35 am

              I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this – 100% agreement in any case is a strange country indeed! Many women might indeed win prizes, but not often when they’re writing about female central characters, which is what I’m talking about here. I’m glad your experience is different, but sadly it’s not the same for a huge number of women writers.


          • November 14, 2015 at 11:33 am

            If stories about men are not labelled as men’s fiction, there should not be a women’s fiction label either.

            …because men don’t face the same challenges, so equivalent books are not written about them. The Women’s Fiction label came into existence precisely because general fiction does not cover the very specific issues and challenges that women face — and, I believe, will always face, as we are the designated child-bearing sex. For me, and for many others, it ’s great to have books on a similar subject together — it makes choosing reading matter easier. Easier than if it was all lumped together. ANyway, I only posted here so that you understand that there are other opinions, and not everyone is offended by the label.

            And I repeat — there exists a true black-out, and gheetoisation, of black and other ethnic writers and subject matter. I wish a popular mainstream blogger would investigate that issue. Unlike with the women’s fiction issue — which concerns half of us all — when BAME writers complain it’s called playing the race card. But it concerns us all, since it would do white readers good to be offered more diversity.

            Liked by 1 person

            • November 14, 2015 at 1:13 pm

              …and I immedaitely have to refute my own argument…. I just remembered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is black, celebrated, wins prizes, sells loads of books, counts as literary, has her books made into movies, and is female! She writes about women as central characters. At the back of my mind there are other female writers of female centred books.

              Based on my memory I’m pretty sure that if I researched it I could make a case that female-centred books classified as Literary — because the writing is so good, or because it deals with Serious Topics – there are just as many female as male writers — are written by as many female as male authors.

              Women’s Fiction is by definition commercial fiction. And it has to do with the character and content, not with the author. Occasionally, such books get classified as Literary: you claim that this only happens if the writer is male. This is the part I doubt. Somebody should do a proper survey — at the moment it seems to be all speculation.

              And if few males read it, it is their loss. There are good books among them.


              • November 14, 2015 at 1:40 pm

                Well, as I recall, Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun was narrated from the POV of two men and one woman. It was not a book about one central female character such as Toibin’s.

                You can find a few exceptions to any argument; but we’re talking about general trends here. And I’ll just reiterate my point about books written to the same literary standard by women about women being categorised as women’s fiction instead of lit-fic. These are the books under discussion here. Perhaps, as you say, having undertaken some research on the topic, you might find that these cases are the exception rather than the rule, which would indeed be a great thing.

                Liked by 2 people

                • November 15, 2015 at 10:40 am

                  women’s fiction doesn’t have to have exclusively female narrators; necessary is the focus on women’s lives, and this is the case in all of her books.


                  • November 15, 2015 at 11:28 am

                    Lamaha, I feel that we’re going around in circles and that you are having the same argument in several different places on this comment thread. As I am obliged to moderate this I’d rather it didn’t get too repetitive. Let’s just agree that we differ and leave it at that!


        • sonjayoerg
          November 13, 2015 at 9:27 pm

          Hmm…You said Women’s Fiction is defined uniquely by writing about “her relationships. Her struggles, her inner growth, her maturing through whatever she experiences throughout the story.” But isn’t that what is written about in novels generally? Surely male characters struggle, grow, mature, etc., only when they do, the reader is more likely to see it as the human experience, rather than defined by gender. That’s the wall put up by flowery covers and WF marketing strategies. It’s saying men aren’t interested in women’s lives especially if women write about them. So let’s slap a label on that subset and make sure men don’t make contact with it. It’s archaic.

          Liked by 1 person

          • November 14, 2015 at 7:50 am

            Hi Sonjayoerg, whereas all books are hopefully about character growth, in Women’s Fiction it’s character growth as applied specifically to the concerns and lives of women, which are traditionally, and in contemporary times too, very different from the lives of men. Usually it’s about overcoming the hardships and prejudices specific to women; and there really is no male equivalent In that respect, since there are no hardships and prejudices and discriminations specific to men.
            Perhaps indeed men aren’t interested in reading about such lives; but I would say they are all the poorer for it, and it’s their loss. Instead of complaining why not encourage men to come over to the dark side, get interested, and read and write such books?


            • sonjayoerg
              November 14, 2015 at 11:33 am

              Oh, there are plenty of hardships and prejudices specific to men, and I don’t believe that much of Women’s Fiction deals with prejudice or discrimination at all. In any case, the most important themes a writer can address apply to all people, which is why we can read about a street urchin in India or a politician in the U.S. and still be moved (although the latter is a stretch!). I write novels which have been stuffed into the Women’s Fiction label, and they are not, at their deepest level about anything uniquely female. I would love more men to read my books.
              Interestingly, the most popular review of my debut on Goodreads is by a man. The first line of the review is “Don’t be fooled by the cute dog on the cover; there is nothing cute about this book.” I was given a cover that has to be explained away because the book is Women’s Fiction and must have a dog if it does not have an Adirondack chair or a woman with long hair. Something is greatly amiss.

              Liked by 2 people

  2. November 12, 2015 at 8:18 am

    You really know how to kickstart the day for aspiring “male” writers. I feel like getting back into bed (I’m actually still in bed but for effect…) and giving up altogether. By the time your tribe of followers gather and digest your latest call to arms, we will have no chance. My perception is that male fiction writers in Ireland are in a minority ( based on writing workshops, reporting, press coverage, chat shows, bookshop displays and as featured writers in Sunday supplements!) I do agree that we have more celebrated male authors generally but would contend that this may have more to do with quality rather than quantity? I perceive female writers to be more prolific than male counterpoints and this could potentially work against them, regardless of the quality of the work.
    Did you ever think of developing an APP using your blog to wake people up in the morning and get their “arse” in gear. I now feel like I’ve done a days work already and she hasn’t brought me my breakfast yet!
    Just sayin!

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 9:18 am

      But this is just the problem, Adrian! It’s not that women writers are more prolific – because whether they are or aren’t, is irrelevant. It’s that they are automatically seen to be more prolific, meaning they are deemed literary-lite, meaning of course that their stuff is inferior to writing by men, which is better, because mansplain it to me, etc.

      My contention is that a male and a female writer, writing about the same subject, to the same literary standard, will be received differently. His book will be literary fiction read by both sexes. Hers will be not as good, and read by women only. To keep it Irish for a second, we should ask Eimear McBride, Sarah Baume, Lisa McInerney, Nuala Ni Chonchuir or any of the new Young Turkesses how many men are reading their books in comparison to Colin Barrett, Kevin Barry or Paul Murray. We can follow that up with a question about whether or not their struggle to get reviews or editorials is at the same level as their male counterparts.

      On the other hand, I’m glad I roused you this morning. I’ve been planning a long-overdue career in world domination, and initial experiments are quite promising.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. November 12, 2015 at 8:42 am

    You women are gas! Leave the writing about sex to men. We understand it. Stay writing about romance. We men don’t understand it or care a whit about it. As we have football, pizza, beer and hairy legs, we are happy.

    As far as your challenge goes, I am already responsible for some of the worst advertising (most produced on 50% of what one would call a budget) that has been seen over the past 30 years in Ireland. So, that precludes me.

    The Interweb means that we no longer have the attention span to read anything more than 140 characters long so nobody will see this bit, where I say “Good on ya Sparling. It needs to be said and you have done that.”

    Liked by 4 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 9:34 am

      Well, now, Conor, you almost had me there – I was going to stop writing about sex immediately (which was fortunate, because my next writing task is a 5-page report about the German chemical industry), but then you made a major mistake. You forgot that I know you, and in particular, I know that you like to cycle. So your careless mention of hairy legs proceeded to negate your entire argument.

      Never mind. There’s always advertising in women’s magazines – they don’t mind what they print, surely?

      Liked by 3 people

  4. November 12, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Ah, gender politics and books. Not gonna touch that with a 10 mile pole, if you don’t mind 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. November 12, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Tell you what, though. Take it back to the readers. Look at me. I read a lot. A LOT. I’m also a wooly limp-wristed latte-gulping liberal who’d call himself a feminist if he wasn’t too timid to risk appropriating the term as a man. That kind of thing. I started cataloguing my reading a few years ago, first on Facebook, now on Goodreads. A chance remark on a blog about male/female ratios in various anthologies caused me to glance back over my reading and I was freakin’ shocked. If every tenth author was a woman that was a lot, comparatively. Male, male, male all the way down. I was unconsciously choosing male writers all the time. This was impossible sez I, three of my favourite writers are the wimmenz! (Dorothy Dunnett, CJ Cherryh, Gwyneth Jones.) But no. That makes no difference, That’s a ‘some of my best friends’ arguments, given the volume of books and the numbers of authors I was going through. I had to consciously think about choosing more female writers to read. Which I did, with no discernible dip in my enjoyment of reading.

    I honestly think this is the background hum to what you’re alluding to and to, say, the current fiasco in the Abbey. Even in the best of us menz, there can be a deep-rooted, unconscious, non-malicious bias against reading women. And that filters up to Women’s Fiction as a category, because if women are the biggest market, you’re aiming at them anyway. They’ll read men too, without prompting, but getting men to read women who haven’t ‘broken out’ in some way or another? (I’m thinking say, Gillian Flynn or Anne Enright) Too much like hard work.Or the result of casual acceptance of unconscious bias.

    There. That’s all my thinking done for the day.

    Liked by 3 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 11:24 am

      If everyone thought like that, Nige, one thinking a day would suffice.

      And don’t feel too bad. I’m the one on the soapbox and yet I’m guilty of the same thing sometimes, which is ludicrous. Your comment made me think too.


  6. November 12, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Wow, that’s an interesting read, loads to think about. And you are so right about Brooklyn

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      I hope so, Anne. I have nightmare visions of Colm Toibín descending angrily upon me, wielding one of his many awards.


  7. November 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    I’m with you on keeping genres gender neutral. I’m having this struggle at the moment with my two young boys. They went to the cinema last christmas and saw a film they loved, singing the songs for weeks afterwards. then they went back to school and were told by friends that Frozen was a ‘girls film’ and never want to watch it again. My answer is to not only watch it and show them I enjoy it, but to sing the songs even though I personally loath them (through overplay).
    As for chick-lit, I always thought it was a very specific genre focussing on a light-hearted, humorous look at relationships. Has this expanded to include all fiction written by women? If so, I’m all for getting rid of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      That makes me so sad, Dylan – that your two young lads had to be turned off something they loved – but in reality, I can remember the same from my own childhood. What age do kids start sneering at things? 5? Younger, if they have older siblings? I don’t know how you can avoid it, I really don’t.

      As for definitions: women’s fiction is the more literary end of things, because if a woman wrote it, only women would want to read it; regarding chick-lit, from what I can tell, it used to be exactly as you describe, but now I think it’s expanded to include anything written by a woman that has a happy ending. Anything at all. Even a car manual, if the car isn’t totalled at the end of it.


      • November 12, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        It came from my oldest (he’s nine) but my youngest is just four. We’re fighting hard against it and both love Strictly, so there’s still hope.

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 12, 2015 at 2:57 pm

          I suppose once they’re old enough to get snarky you could always teach them a stock answer to trot out at such guff, such as “gender stereotyping is soooo last week, seriously, grow up, or you’ll never get a date”


          Liked by 1 person

  8. November 12, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Great article. I wrote something on the subject a (long) while ago for writing.ie, but it was a lot more meandering and confused…

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      That is an excellent article, Janet, I particularly like the line “Perhaps ‘women’s fiction’ is simply code for ‘something that wouldn’t interest men’” and the penguin analogy.

      And I know why the cover of your book was a bit girly. It had your name on it.


  9. November 12, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Spot on from where I’m hunched. I couldn’t put my finger on the unease surrounding the acclaim Brooklyn is receiving but off course the attachment of a revered male-weight elevates it head and shoulders about other wimmin who have, and would, give it a run for its money.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      True, Tenderness. I think it’s only when the wimmins start winning the major prizes that they break through that barrier, but you wonder how many extra hoops they have to jump through to get onto the shortlists in the first place.

      Liked by 2 people

      • November 12, 2015 at 8:05 pm

        Just lashing this up in case you haven’t already heard it http://www.sineadgleeson.com/the-long-gaze-back-launch/

        I see Kevin Barry won the Goldsmith prize from another female-shy list.

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 12, 2015 at 8:18 pm

          I hadn’t seen the post, thank you, but I had my eye on the launch through social media. Sinead Gleeson for President. I have to say I am a major Kevin Barry fan. I haven’t read Beatlebone yet but all of his other stuff is jaw-dropping. I’m not sure who’s missing from that list in the way of women. It’s so hard to know when stuff qualifies based on when it’s published – Beatlebone is only published this month. At least Eimear McBride won the Goldsmith recently – and that was a shock win, came out of nowhere, so I’m willing to give them a huge benefit of the doubt.

          Liked by 1 person

          • November 12, 2015 at 8:28 pm

            With you on Kevin Barry. Phenomenal, including his short stories. I’d wager some some of the blokes would nod in agreement at the barriers flung in the way of the writing of their female peers gaining equal status.

            Liked by 1 person

  10. Jack Tyler
    November 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Good morning, Ms. T. I got up this morning and read through these comments, and something about the gestalt is leading me toward a conclusion that I don’t necessarily like. It isn’t just about categorizing women’s fiction, either. Follow along for a moment:

    I was raised in a house full of women. There were no men around during my formative years to teach me that women were inferior, flighty, stupid, good for nothing but sex and housework, or any of that other nonsense that misogynists attach to the lack of a penis, and I have always treated women with respect and consideration. On-line, where I am nothing to you but a single hand-picked photo and a page of text, my female friends are legion. In the real world, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. When I speak with a woman in a business or social situation, I bring the same level of deference, respect, and high regard, but in person, they all tend to stand out of arm’s reach, and constantly look around like they’re late for an appointment, or they’re identifying escape routes. I’m not Brad Pitt, but I don’t look like the Elephant Man, either. I don’t dress funny, or make creepy comments about their clothes or body shape, yet I most often get treated like the creepy neighbor in a stalker movie. I’m beginning to wonder whether women really want respect, or is it that they see it so infrequently that they assume that it’s weird? Is what women want that tatted-up alpha-dog biker dude who’ll treat them like they’re something he bought at the slave market? And finally, I’m wondering whether I lack female friends specifically because I don’t act like that.

    All that is personal anecdotes, not relevant to the discussion of women’s fiction, but it is background data based on a long life of direct observation. So maybe this separation continues because women, the majority of writers, in reality want it to continue?

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      Can’t say I really understand, Jack. I feel for your quandary, but I’m not convinced it feeds into the designation of women’s fiction in either the industry or the market. I also don’t think this issue is entirely about respect, or a perceived lack of it. I would never have thought of myself as someone who didn’t respect a female writer, but if you see Nigel Quinlan’s comment above, he didn’t realise he had an unconscious bias toward male writers, and to be honest, neither did I, until I realised I absolutely did, having read his comment.

      Whilst I admit I have the bias, I’m also shirking the blame for it, because I don’t believe I would have said bias if it hadn’t been ingrained in me by the marketing, prize-giving, critique and editorial I’ve encountered over the years.

      As for your personal experience, I really don’t know what to say. I think possibly you need to find less snooty and snotty people to hang around with. I don’t know who you’ve been meeting or what the meaning or misunderstandings may be, but I must reject utterly that some sort of separation has been created and perpetuated by female writers who want to be seen as distinct from their male colleagues. It’s about equality, not distinction.

      I also feel the need to shout out that just because daft romance and erotica regarding alpha-male controlling sociopaths has been popular lately, that it’s what women want. If popular culture was a true indicator of what people actually wanted, we’d all be in a tartan-bedecked bunker right now, trading zombie attack strategies, eating kale-flavoured yoghurt and talking entirely in memes.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Nadine
    November 12, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    This was a great post, but…I have mixed feelings about it. I write women’s fiction and am proud to say so. That’s the audience I care about. Oddly enough, my biggest fans to date have been men, even though I write directly to and for women.

    My latest work in progress is actually a combination of thriller with contemporary romance. If I go after the thriller market, those diehard thriller lovers may hate the “female on an interior journey” part of it. It’s not “chick lit,” either.

    I agree there’s a problem…I’m just not sure I agree with what to do about it. I’m proud to write women’s fiction, and I’m proud that even though that’s what I call it, men read it. I think the real issue is the perception that women’s fiction is “less than,” and that perception is what needs to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Great point, Nadine. There is no reason not to have pride in writing for women. Although, you say you write directly to and for women – why? Are you not delighted that your work is transcending a more narrow categorisation and proving to have something for everyone?

      I doubt Suzanne Collins minded that her YA novels were being read by millions of adults, but there is a difference between novels about young adults, and novels for young adults. Ditto, novels about women should not just be for women: they are not just women’s fiction, as Colm Toibín proved with Brooklyn.

      Surely there is something better to call stuff which is character-driven, introspective, more domestically concerned, where the gender of the main character(s) is not the point?


      • November 12, 2015 at 10:05 pm

        No doubt there is, Tara, but when you think of a better general term do let us know. I’ve tried to think of a different label for the last 25 years of writing. I call mine women’s fiction because if I call it romance someone will throw the dirty F word at me – that is, “formula”(or lack of). Or worse – quote some imaginary rule from some imaginary rule book.

        So, you don’t like the label of women’s fiction? Then don’t use it. If I write historical, someone at some point will label them bodice rippers, or worse – hysterical fiction. Some will say they have too much romance to be historical saga. Others will say they have too much historical content or storyline to really be romances. The wishy-washy phrase “Costume Drama” features highly on the list of stabs with a blunt kitchen knife, and is re-discovered every now and then.

        The subject itself is a cliché, and has been debated for years.

        As for poor old male readers, they do take a bashing at times? Judging by the many books and equal number of films my husband enjoys, they are all action packed. He’s not keen on domestic films. He doesn’t like weepies or films where people (women and children in particular) suffer. He likes to be entertained, and I think there’s more than a touch of the hero in most men, whatever form it takes.

        Oh no! I’ve just remembered. Hero was a woman!

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 12, 2015 at 11:46 pm

          Ii suppose there will be labellers we don’t like, Janet, in the same way that there will be readers who don’t like our stuff. I just wish the objectionable label itself wasn’t so widely bandied about.

          I hope poor old male readers don’t feel bashed by this kind of conversation! With the greatest of respect, it’s nothing to do with them. An action adventure fan would have no more reason (or perhaps just the same reason) to dismiss a General Fiction novel about family told from a female point of view than they would to dismiss a General Fiction novel about man’s struggle for meaning. The problem is with the outright and abject labelling of something as Women’s Fiction in the first place, as if to say “Oh, you won’t like this.”


  12. November 12, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Reblogged this on Ann Marquette and commented:
    Interesting post, and thank you Tara Sparling from Ireland.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. annerallen
    November 12, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    I agree completely! Because I write funny books about women, I got put in the ghetto of chick lit for ages. But all my best reviews came from men. So I decided to scatter a few corpses in my stories and call them humorous mysteries–and they sailed up the charts. By labeling books about women as only for women, we eliminate half our audience (and 100% of the prestige.)

    Liked by 3 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      Just goes to show, Anne – whether we agree with having to rebrand or not, all it takes is a little creative thinking to get through the barrier sometimes. It’s not ideal, but we have to concentrate on what works sometimes rather than getting upset about what’s wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. November 12, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Jan Hawke INKorporated and commented:
    amen.Amen.AM[nota]MAN! Re-blogging naturally 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Terri-Lynne DeFino
    November 12, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    As a writer of romance and “women’s fiction” I agree on all your points. Sideways. Sort of. You’re right. I’ve had the same rant myself. Many times. But here’s the thing–women make up the vast majority of readers. We buy the most books, read the most, both ebooks and print. If that’s the case, why is “women’s fiction” stigmatized? Shouldn’t that be a key selling feature? We all know the bottom-line reason–because no matter how far we’ve come, it’s still a man’s world. I could rant about that but back to the point–it’s not the designation that has to be changed, but the stigma applied to it. Why does tagging fiction with “women’s” make it lesser? Are we not buying into the whole “women as lesser beings” if we eschew the tag rather than vie against the wrongful stigma? Like, why is a “pussy” weak? Why do coaches call boys “ladies” when they’re not working up to standards? Why does everything designated WOMAN mean something less than MAN? THAT is what needs to change. Until it does, losing the tag isn’t going to do a thing.

    We can’t change the tag. It’s just not going to happen as things stand. But we can change the stigma. We need to own our tag proudly. Wave it around. USE OUR WALLETS TO MAKE THE CHANGE! Because in this man’s world, money talks.

    Thanks for a great article.

    Liked by 4 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      I think the main bone of contention for me, Terri-Lynne, is that there should be no such thing as women’s fiction if there isn’t another recognised genre known as men’s fiction. And there isn’t. I don’t worry about why there is a stigma as much as I worry that there is a stigma at all. But it does exist, and it is derogatory, and it is perpetuated by the label. And you are absolutely right. The only way we can change things is through our wallets.

      Nobody says that crime, fantasy, science fiction or young adult fiction is specifically directed at one gender. Women make up the majority of the book-buying public, full stop: so if it’s general fiction, dealing mainly with the human condition, it should be called general fiction. If it’s romance, it’s romance. But it is not women’s fiction, any more than Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance was a mechanical manual.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Terri-Lynne DeFino
        November 12, 2015 at 10:13 pm

        I do get that. And I agree. But I also feel that the more we, ourselves, look askance at the designation, so will everyone else. In Hilary’s comment (Hilary has Romance on the Brain) we see the worst kind of marginalizing*. In my mind, these are related but separate issues. I kind of strayed from YOUR point with my comment. Perhaps a bit rude of me. I get passionate about this topic.

        *And this form of marginalizing plays into the whole idea that romance (belonging to the little ladies, don’t you know) is somehow a less important form of literature. Again, related but different issue.

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 12, 2015 at 11:40 pm

          I think we’re on the same point, just approaching it from different angles… it’s probably just that I would rather see the designation disappear altogether than learn to live with it quietly. I’m a troublemaker, you see. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • Terri-Lynne DeFino
            November 13, 2015 at 3:19 pm

            And I would rather elevate the designation and get the world to stop viewing anything “women” as weak, lesser, and somehow ONLY for women. Like you said, same goal, different angles. That’s EXACTLY what we need to get it done.

            The discussion in here is a fantastic start. I’m glad to see it being shared in other venues.

            Liked by 1 person

    • November 14, 2015 at 9:04 am

      it’s not the designation that has to be changed, but the stigma applied to it. Why does tagging fiction with “women’s” make it lesser?

      Exactly what I think. I personally am happy with the designantion, and if some people aren’t, why should they have the last word? I’ve often noticed that those who object to the tag are people who don’t write it. I think the term is apt: what else should we call it? It IS a very specific genre, and just because the word “women’s” makes some people squeamish – well, instead maybe we could acknowledge that this is a valid genre, that women historically and even today have different lives to men and more chalenges, and that we SHOULD have our own corner of the book world. Not a LESSER corner: an OWN corner. By the same token, why are there women’s studies at Universities, but no “Men’s Studies”? Your answer is the reason why we have Women’s Fiction. It is not a bad reason.


      • November 14, 2015 at 10:42 am

        It makes it lesser, Lamaha, because there is no corresponding genre for men’s fiction. It says that women’s fiction is only interesting to women. This in turn cuts off a large section of the reading market, when we say that men aren’t interested in it. It’s great that you’re happy with the designation, but as you can see from the other comments, lots of women aren’t. The majority are people who never set out to write women’s fiction, and yet are shoehorned into the genre whether they like it or not, so I’m not surprised they object.


  16. November 12, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Reblogged this on The GUNDERSTONE review.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. November 12, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Yes, YES, YES. Back in 2003, my first novel is about to be published, I have an interview with a young woman from the local paper. I describe my book – a novel dealing with the role of music and poetry in grief, taking in both physical and mental disability along the way. I talk about my recently achieved PhD in brain science. The piece comes out with the unbeatable headline Hilary has Romance on the Brain.
    Orchestral selectors (male and female) were convinced that men were better (more accurate, more gutsy etc) players until they started blind auditions, ditto science magazines…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino
      November 12, 2015 at 6:31 pm

      That’s just mind-numbing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 8:08 pm

      Good grief, Hilary. That’s the local press for you, I suppose. I wonder do they see it as a Faustian trade of some sort. “She wants the coverage. She’ll take whatever angle I can be bothered to come up with before I go back to stalking my ex on Facebook.” (contemporised version obviously)


    • November 12, 2015 at 10:44 pm

      Hilarycustacegreen, that is one of the most shocking things I have ever read, did the writer of the piece go for any literary awards themselves? I’m pretty sure had they packaged it the way you had, it would have grabbed so many more people. They should carry out a survey to that effect, show women twenty pairs of headlines, one dumbed down set and the other describing something significant about the author. Tara, I do women’s fiction. I love it. I would call what I write ‘chick lit’ because I throw in comedy everywhere and try to brighten it all up and it’s fully aimed at women. But yes, it does make sense that the term is ‘romance’ for a romance or ‘romantic comedy’ for what it says on the tin. I have never had an issue with women’s fiction or chick lit but your points are beyond valid. Because you’re right: There is no men’s fiction. What a revelation to say that: THERE IS NO MEN’S FICTION!!! I think anything that’s in the minority is going to get more press, there are not a lot of men romance writers, men are not supposed to be in touch with their feelings, hence men that do are jumped on (plus Colm Toibin has the talent to put with that)

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 12, 2015 at 11:33 pm

        Yip. I don’t have as much of a problem with the chick-lit term as I have with women’s fiction (as long as it’s applied properly) – because I know what chick-lit is: it’s romantic comedy that always has a happy ending. I don’t know what women’s fiction is, except that I feel patronised by it as both a reader and a writer. I’m sure male romance writers feel outnumbered and maybe isolated, but at least nobody’s asking them to get into an entirely different category because of their gender!


      • November 15, 2015 at 10:37 am

        There is no men’s fiction because men don’t face the same challenges that women do. Women’s fiction is something very specific, and there is no male equivalent. Men being the favoured gender historically, there is hardly a need for them to write or read about the struggles of reaching their full potential — most of them already know how to do this, or at least, their way is easier. True, men also face the challenges of poverty, caring for a family, being a good father — but somehow, men seem far less interested in self-analysis and finding self-esteem — nor nearly to the extent women are.

        I really hate this idea tht men and women have to have parity in every single area. We are different in many ways, and not having an equivalent in some areas does not always mean that women are lesser. We are not. Seeing an insult in every area where men are not represented is to my view much too thin-skinned.


  18. November 12, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    I agree. It’s everywhere. Womens fiction, womens football, womens issues, International Womens Day. There’s always the prefix ‘women’ that’s seems to be loaded with the implied words ‘I say aren’t these girls absolutely wonderful giving it a go at writing/footie and things normally done by chaps.’

    What I don’t understand about publishing is the number of female agents, editors, authors and readers and yet women still get the crappy end of the stick. Have you considered revolution?

    Liked by 3 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      I tried once, Chris. But I fired up too many generals, there were sixteen internal coups and the city burned for a week. To this day, they still don’t know it was me who started it.


      Liked by 3 people

  19. November 12, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Fantasy has suffered a bit too from a predominance of success for male authors, and greater struggles for female authors. We don’t get recategorized, thankfully, and I imagine in time the playing field will level as women continue to write quality books. Many won’t want to admit it, but we still live in a world that gives preference to men (in most fields). I do my part by making sure that my reading list includes plenty of books written by women.

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 8:12 pm

      That is the first and ultimate call to revolution, Diana! We need to buy more general fiction written by women and vote with our wallets. Bravo.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. November 12, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Rhoda Baxter.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. sonjayoerg
    November 12, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    I was about to say “don’t get me started” but you did and I am. I’m told I write Women’s Fiction, but I was the last to know and the first to deny it. I’m fighting this ridiculous and demeaning labeling in every way I can but publishers, agents and reviewers are strong enforcers. They say 75% of fiction is purchased by women and use that to argue there is no better place to be than in the kitten-heeled world of Women’s Fiction. The logic is crap, of course. Just because women buy a lot of fiction doesn’t mean they are buying it because of the label, or because they are drawn to “a woman’s story.”

    I have written main characters who are nerdy scientists and swear like longshoremen and I’m not above leaving corpses around when necessary. My stories have no traditional romance. And yet I am hobbled. I have a manuscript in my drawer with a male main character but I have to sell a gazillion copies of the others before anyone will look at it, and that is so very hard to do without reviews and a penis. At least I’ve got cajones!

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 12, 2015 at 11:20 pm

      That’s beyond frustrating, Sonja. You’re at the coalface – I’m just observing from a distance, and I’m extremely irritated by it, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. I still maintain that if Women’s Fiction was as acceptable as it’s made out to be by the behind-the-scenes industry people, it would be called just that in the bestseller lists. But the fact that it isn’t, and that there isn’t a corresponding Men’s Fiction label, means that they all know it’s wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sonjayoerg
        November 12, 2015 at 11:28 pm

        Thanks, Tara. The issue is complicated by the fact that many female authors embrace the label and would never dream of writing outside the box. Of course that’s their choice, but for someone like me who isn’t quite sure what sort of book might pop out next, it’s debilitating. Luckily there are lots of options in publishing (few good ones, but hey) and the changing landscape will favor the nimble, whatever their genre.

        Liked by 1 person

  22. November 12, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    I love this post. I’ve been published now since 2003 and I hate the label, yet I know exactly what it means, and most of my favourite books (and authors) are given the ‘women’s fiction’ designation. I love smart, ‘commercial’ fiction: books with strong stories but also strong themes and ideas. Male writers are celebrated for doing this, exactly as you say – Nick Hornby, David Nicholls, David Nobbs, David Lodge – while women who dare to be clever and funny – Marian Keyes is a prime example – are belittled. In my next life, I’m coming back as a David.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 11:22 pm

      Oh do! Ditch the Kate, come back as a David, and only talk to other authors named David. Then at least we’ll have someone to blame. At the moment, sadly, in true women fashion, we appear to be blaming ourselves…


  23. November 12, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    I wonder if geography might have anything to do with it, i.e., would, say, Scandinavian men be more inclined to read “women’s fiction” than American men who tend to chow done on testosterone infused American beef (which has gotten it banned pretty much everywhere else) and, perhaps thus why they like their entertainment violent?

    I’ve worked in both libraries and a bookstore and the truism accepted by employees was that most women are mainly interested in reading romance novels. Yes it’s sexist but has anyone done a study?

    Maybe a solution would be for more men to write romance imbued literature (any idea how many do now)? What are advertisers going to categorize it as then? My own novel, Opalescence, though a sci-fi action adventure, has a strong romantic component. It’s in fact an integral part of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 13, 2015 at 10:01 am

      I’m not sure geography would have as much to do with it as language. English-language stuff certainly seems to be labelling with brute force, and segregating the audiences into crude and ill-fitting categories.

      I don’t have any problem with women being mainly interested in romance novels. I have a major problem with a novel being called a romance if it’s actually about the complexities of family ties, for instance, or coping with trauma.


  24. November 13, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Yes, yes, yes, I love you, Tara! I’ve ranted about this, too, and it still angers me that men who write about war and fishing and hunting, etc., are taken seriously yet when women write about relationships and the emotional aspects of life, their works are dismissed as “women’s fiction.” Ahhhh! Hopefully this will soon change.
    P.S. I especially hate the term chick lit. OMFG, who started that?
    Thanks for a great post. And especially, thanks for making me think.

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 13, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Not even just that, Cinthia – how about the fact that when women write about war and fishing it’s still women’s fiction, but when men write about relationships and emotions, it’s literary fiction. As for chick-lit, I didn’t have a problem with it when it referred to a single subgenre of contemporary romantic comedies. But now that it’s been extended to deride almost all contemporary fiction written by women – that’s what gets my goat. And let me tell you, my goat is got a lot, but this gets him right and proper.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Jack Tyler
    November 13, 2015 at 8:15 am

    OMG, Tara! It’s amazing how things fall into alignment sometimes. I posted this morning about the idea of women preferring bad boys, you replied, it was a nice little conversation, and I figured it was done. 12 hours later, I swear to you, this shows up in my mail feed:


    I can’t make this stuff up, folks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 13, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Nope, not buying this neither, Jack. Sorry. I have to call this out. I love the term ‘science’ being applied to a single study of 1,000 people, who are probably all from one culture too, and one country. Balderdash!

      Here’s an alternative theory for you. My theory is that men who have pathological personalities come across as more sure of themselves than other men. The so-called ‘bad boys’ are often the ones who appear most confident, and indeed proceed to go out and do more proactive wooing of women, precisely because they’re so convinced of their own attraction (which becomes self-perpetuating after a time). Let me tell you, as a woman, that the most attractive thing in any man is confidence, particularly quiet self-assurance which is not boastful. Let’s please take the pathology out of this rubbish and stop analysing romance novels like they’re anything other than fantasy. The thing which most women don’t tell you is that the man of their dreams would never be allowed to darken their door in real life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 13, 2015 at 10:09 pm

        Yes, yes. What these studies fail to mention is that men have been doing this for centuries: marrying the “little woman,” the domesticated one, the nice girl, and then having affairs with the “bad” women, the ones who are a little fast, who are outspoken, who are assertive and aggressive and sexual, etc.
        So what’s the big deal that many women also marry nice men and then daydream about the bad boy, the brute, the one that they can have incredible sex with yet would never want as a partner? This is completely accepted and part of the male lifestyle. But women? Well, we aren’t allowed such luxuries. Even when it comes to books, our “bad boy” stories are categorized as romance fiction while men’s “bad girl” fantasies are categorized as literature and often become bestsellers.
        Who was it that submitted her manuscript under both a male and female name and found out that under the male named it received more responses and positive remarks? I’ll have Google it. Whatever the case, stuff like this really, really burns me up. Which is why I write. Which is why I buy books mainly written by women.

        Liked by 2 people

  26. November 13, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks so much for this, currently doing my MfA in creative writing and all out lecturers are men (while wonderful and insightful, still they are men) there does seem to be an underlying thing of Men vs Women, that I don’t get.

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 13, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      That’s unfortunate, Jensine. Not the best environment for creative thinking either, I imagine.


  27. November 13, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    I enjoyed the post, Tara, and I’m NEVER going to use the term ‘Women’s fiction’ again! I write historical fiction and yes, men have called them bodice rippers, ‘hysterical’ (thinking they’re being incredibly funny and not realising I’ve heard it so many times before – Yawn), and Aga Sagas. What makes me so cross with myself is when a man tells me he’s enjoyed my (touchy-feely) novel and I’m a) surprised he’s even picked it up, b) amazed he’s read it and c) thrilled when he says he’s thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next one to come out!

    I need to coax myself out of that nonsense and stop being so grateful A MAN has actually read my novel! And that if a man has given it the thumbs up, it must be a really good read.

    Isn’t that pathetic? Never admitted this to anyone else before 😦

    Hard to think that in my previous life I set up and ran an 8-branch estate agency and burnt my bra along with the rest of ’em in the sixties!

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 13, 2015 at 4:18 pm

      That’s an eye-opener, Fenella – and not a good one either – it shows that you’re being put down just as much for historical fiction as the ladies in contemporary fiction. You’re dead right, though, about getting to a point where there’s more pride and less gratefulness.

      Don’t worry about being pathetic. We’re all pathetic, it’s just that some of us are a little too good at admitting it 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  28. November 13, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    How smack dab on! I feel the need for a new genre title to supplant women’s fiction.

    I’ve long sought out women’s fiction to read; it’s the genre I like best, for its gritty reality. Because I loathe romance and the dismissively-named “chick-lit” for their frivolity and fantasy, looking for women’s fiction titles help me zero in on what I want to read, and write.

    Now I’m agent-hunting for a novel I’ve just finished in my favorite genre, and of course, looking for agents who seek women’s fiction. Its genre name poses a conflicting issue. On the one hand, calling it women’s fiction makes it easy for a reader to find. On the other, its very name implies it will only be interesting to women, or it’s written by a woman, or the issues it deals with are ones that only women must cope with—or all of those. That’s all misleading, even untrue, of course.

    If I change my name and write as a man under a pseudonym, will my genre change, too? The weighty issues facing the women (and even some of the men) in my novel might be seen as more universal. But I won’t do that; I’m who I am. Thus the need for a new genre. Or perhaps just a re-labeling of “women’s fiction” as “realistic fiction.”

    There, I like that much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      We do need a new genre title, Jann… Perhaps the best way to fight back is to come up with alternative labels which are just too good to argue with. Seriously. We should do this. Perhaps I’ll run a poll. Hmmmm….

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 13, 2015 at 4:35 pm

        I’m there, great idea, Tara. Especially since the genre that really nails it–realistic fiction—isn’t universally recognized. Or maybe not recognized as such.

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 13, 2015 at 4:47 pm

          I suppose one problem there, Jann, is that the Women’s Fiction label at least tells me that it might deal with subjects of interest to women, whether it’s incorrectly applied or not. I think genre designations which will work as viable alternatives have to be clear in their meaning, and I’m not sure what Realistic Fiction is saying.

          Liked by 1 person

          • November 13, 2015 at 5:22 pm

            To me, it’s fiction that could happen in day-to-day life. Takes it out of the women’s camp. But that’s the twisted message of women’s fiction label—it can be a good thing, just badly applied. Maybe the solution is to start a men’s fiction movement!

            Liked by 1 person

    • November 15, 2015 at 10:27 am

      I feel the need for a new genre title to supplant women’s fiction.

      @ Jann: I don’t see how changing the label is the way to address any imbalance in the way books are assessed. If we called it “relationship fiction” or ” reality fiction” or “book club fiction” would that help? I truly doubt it. it just seems to be a tortured attempt to avoid the word “women”, which is actually the one word that most aptly defines it. This is really weird to me. Perhaps another word (women’s lives fiction?) is needed to clarify that men can certainly read it too, but the fact is, it’s about women.
      I don’t think the label is the root of the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Brittany
    November 13, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I both agree and disagree. I agree that most romances and books written by women are brushed off. But I don’t think it has so much to do with the author as it does with the story. Because I personally don’t read the authors name I read the synopsis after a books cover or title strikes me. And I am friends with plenty of boys who do the same thing. Most boys don’t like romances and well I feel the same way cause most romances are the same at least to me. They’re just not my thing and for most guys its that way too. As for the rest I feel if the books advertised well enough and if the story is good enough I don’t think it will affect people. Though publishers might be far more judging on gender and such but I wouldn’t know for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 13, 2015 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks, Brittany. My point is that the subject matter is labelled according to the gender of the author regardless of what the subject matter is. Also, that women writing general fiction with any hint of romance are labelled as straight romance, but the same does not happen to men. That’s the difference.


      • Brittany
        November 14, 2015 at 5:25 am

        Your right that is a problem I guess I never noticed it. The bookstore I go to doesn’t have a section labeled womens fiction.

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 14, 2015 at 10:49 am

          Exactly- I suppose my contention is if booksellers know not to use the label because it has negative associations, the industry shouldn’t be using it behind the scenes either.


  30. November 13, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    I think I can see the point here – that having a category titled Women’s Fiction implies there is still a standard by which all fiction is judged that is “men’s fiction” and that there are separations between quality of women’s fiction and all other fiction that isn’t written by men. In the Deconstructionist terms that I learned oh so long ago in grad school, it’s an assumption that there is a Subject that is male (white) (Protestant) (heterosexual) and this is the yard stick against which all others (the Other) is measured and always found wanting because the Other is in the minority while the Subject is the majority and the ruler (am I getting a little too academic here? :-D)

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 15, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      My apologies for not posting a comment response earlier Tammayauthor – this is what comes of being away with only a phone to moderate on! I don’t think that’s too academic… I’m guessing that there are probably several root causes to all of this, not least the one that in terms of equality women are always the ones coming from behind. Hopefully one day this will all be academic in the sense that it’s a historical study rather than a current problem.


  31. November 13, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Just subscribed (found you through a retweet of a retweet…), anyway, I agree with you completely. Besides, as Nabokov said regarding genre: “There are no Schools; there is only Talent.”

    On a completely unrelated issue (and I hope you don’t mind this observation): your photo is so full of life (fantastic smile!) that it would be a shame if one of your friends can’t adjust the color levels to remove the yellow overcast.


    • November 14, 2015 at 10:44 am

      Thanks, Stephan. Dammit, here was me thinking my photo was so arty and atmospheric. Although, if you saw the state of pasty Irish skin in wintertime, you would be applying ALL the filters 😉


  32. linda collison
    November 14, 2015 at 4:54 am

    Ah, you young ones are just discovering this.


    • November 14, 2015 at 10:45 am

      If only we could have it so that further young ones never had to, Linda!


  33. November 14, 2015 at 5:38 am

    I’m an avid reader of books of different genre since I was in high school. I observed too who would tend to sell more in the market and make it often in the top list are men. My honest observation? There is still a strong “chauvinism” in the literary world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 14, 2015 at 10:51 am

      There does indeed seem to be in the literary fiction end of things, Angelica. Although, I know I made an example of Irish fiction here, but in general, I have to say I think the industry here is more equal than elsewhere.


  34. November 14, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    PS That was quick work. Waterstones just sent me their book of the year shortlist http://emails.waterstones.com/HM?b=87LeoN12Hb8gPhm4yzmN_NLKGchJ8GZDozlIvKikNgcYWzS1pFr43kH17jGlnH8g&c=_71c3gxHw68p2d17Itdopg
    6 women, 2 men – what influence!

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 15, 2015 at 11:30 am

      Yay Hilary, go us! Do you think it’d be greedy to claim all the credit?! Perhaps we should allocate 5% of it elsewhere 😉


  35. November 15, 2015 at 11:35 am

    If we were men we’d unhesitatingly claim it all…

    Liked by 1 person

  36. November 15, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I seem to remember a man recently owned up to writing his books under a female name as he thought they would sell better that way. And it’s not unknown for women to write under male names in order to get published. In fact I read somewhere recently an article by a woman who did so, laying out the difference in approach by agents, publishers and reviewers to her submissions under her own name and her pseudonym. The male name received more, more positive and more enthusiastic replies whereas under her own name the response was pathetic. So there is still stereotyping out there in the publishing world.

    I must admit to often having problems with genre, unable to shoehorn what I have written into one when I feel the action crosses genres. Perhaps this is one reason why women’s fiction is used, as a cover-all when the genre literary fiction is not seen as appropriate – and yet neither are romance, thriller, detective novel or whatever. I’m not sure there is a simple solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 15, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      I remember that story of the woman making submissions under different genders, Dorothy. There was also a fascinating comic I saw about a transgender woman who told of her experiences doing the same job as both a man and a woman. As a male photographer, she was trusted to do her job in the assumption she was the professional she was: when she transitioned to female, she was constantly asked while working did she know what she was doing, why wasn’t she using this lens or that light, etc etc, by men who assumed they knew more about photography than she did. To my mind, these stories and others told by transgender people are proof positive that such creative bias exists.

      I’m sure there is no simple solution, but sub-categorising general or literary fiction written by women is definitely not one of them.


  37. November 17, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Having just finished writing a thesis on modernist female writers, and having to repeatedly defend why I’d write about what a mere woman had to say about the first world war, this topic utterly grinds my gears. I’ve made this exact argument so any times, and was about to write a post about it myself, but you’ve said it far better than I could have!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 17, 2015 at 10:21 am

      I can’t believe you had to defend that, Bellarah. That would be daft if it wasn’t so sad. I hope you it didn’t hurt to keep your wrath sufficiently in check to get the mark you deserved.

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 17, 2015 at 1:28 pm

        It was a bit dreadful at points, luckily at the worst, when a professor turned around to me and said “You know there’s no pretty dresses in war, dear” my friend leapt in and raged for me! I don’t know what the final mark is yet, but I’m hoping that the markers will agree with my somewhat rage filled introduction! My supervisor was ready to go out and skin male critics by the time she’d finished reading it anyway 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  38. November 19, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    I agree with everything in this post! I’m a bit baffled by the whole Brooklyn hype to be honest, but I think you’ve nailed the matter there. I was a bit unsettled reading a Tony Parsons book (the name escapes me now) some years ago and I couldn’t work out why. Then I realised that while it was getting such acclaim, if a woman had written it with a female central character, it would have had a bright pink cover and labelled chick lit! It would still have been a good book but dismissed by half the population.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 19, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      You’re the 2nd or 3rd person to say that to me, Donna – seems women are often unsettled when reading certain books for reasons they can’t explain at the time, and it turns out to be linked to this sort of thing. I know exactly what you mean about Tony Parsons too, you’re so right. I would see Douglas Kennedy as the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 19, 2015 at 3:44 pm

        Well it’s so good to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. At home I’m told I overthink things!
        I do, but I’d never admit he’s right 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  39. November 23, 2015 at 1:53 am

    Oh my goodness, I had to scroll for days to get to the bottom of your Comments section! Cripes, did you strike a nerve with those book-buying broads. And me too. I applaud your indignation. I had to succumb to the skin-crawling term myself when marketing my novel.
    But I would like to add my tuppence h’penny to your ponderings regarding if Toibin’s tome would have been as successful (or even published) if written by a woman. No it feckin’ would not. Bugger all happens; I only managed to finish it because it was short; and I can’t fathom how they found enough material to conjure a film from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 23, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      What, you mean you weren’t staggered by the staggering genius of the female condition as it was mansplained to you? Perhaps watching the film will help your limited understanding?
      You might benefit from reading some John Banville. He knows everything, including the stuff you know, only better.


  40. December 2, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Reblogged this on CL Pauwels at Large and commented:
    Too good not to share. Writing does NOT carry chromosomal delineations!

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 4, 2015 at 1:14 pm

      Thank you for the re-blog. And now you’ve set me thinking on the chromosome thing. What if we call it ‘XX lit’?!


  41. December 3, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Nice post, Tara

    Liked by 1 person

  42. December 3, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    I hear you, Tara! As a writer who happens to be a woman but does not write cozies or domestic relationship stories (although my protagonists have been known to engage in romantic relationships just as people do in real life), I can vouch for what you say. The industry response to an espionage novel, which includes a romance is positive if you’re Joseph Kanon, more bewildered if you’re a woman. I’ve been told I’m “the real deal” as a writer, but what to do with a story that mixes espionage, a heroine, and a relationship written by a woman?! Pass the smelling salts, please.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      You’ve hit the nail on the head regarding bewilderment. It’s like an agent holds up a manuscript written by a woman – but without the usual female hallmarks – between finger and thumb, brow furrowed, asking ‘and just how am I supposed to sell this thing?’


  43. January 5, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    My teen years happened during an era where the term sexual harassment hadn’t been created, flight attendants were called “stewardess” and fired at age 35 for being too old, and women were portrayed as screaming histrionics in the movies. My high school counselor advised me to take typing so that I could find a job until I met the right man, and many families sent women to college hoping they’d find a high-class husband. Pink collar (women’s) jobs received lower pay than blue collar (factory work/construction) or white collar jobs (administration).

    With that background in mind, it’s infuriating to think that the publishing and marketing world of a writer is still living in that era. Thank you for a well thought-out post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 6, 2016 at 12:11 am

      You’re welcome, and thank you for taking the time to comment, floridaborne. Yes, I think half the problem for women nowadays is trying to explain why there is a problem when the problem is supposed to be long gone, as some truly believe, in any case.

      Liked by 1 person

  44. January 30, 2017 at 10:16 am

    I was going to say that our minds must be in sync (as I’ve just blogged about this), but then I realised it has taken me a year longer than you to get sufficiently annoyed by Women’s Fiction! Always in your shadow, eh? 😉 But say, where did you get that image of me writing my novel in a summer dress at the beach? Have I been hacked?? Seriously though, I think it’s so important for everyone to talk about this issue, because they’re not just belittling female writers and readers, it’s an issue of equality and how women are viewed in general. Great post as always!


  45. ovarious
    March 5, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Great post! Totally agree about the pigeonholing of women’s writing. As an experiment in 2012 ago I decided to read only women writers for a year and five years later I am still doing it. Most of them I did not come across on bestseller lists or the ‘100 best books of the century’ or whatever. There is a wealth of literature out there written by women and it gets very little publicity!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 5, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      Just goes to show what a wealth of excellent writing there is out there, ovarious, if your 1-year experiment turned into a 5-year entertainment. Respect!

      Liked by 1 person

  46. S.A. Aslam
    July 21, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Reblogged this on S.A. Aslam and commented:
    “I a man writes a book which has themes such as love, marriage, family and anything even vaguely domestic, it is Literary Fiction; but when a woman writes about the same issues, it is immediately labelled Chick-Lit.”


  47. Cynthia
    December 10, 2020 at 3:39 am

    I, as a woman, avoid women writers most of the times. They are just too emotional and obvious.


    • December 10, 2020 at 6:14 pm

      You’re so right. I know what you mean. It’s the exact same with some commenters but I never generalise, except on Tuesdays. And occasionally on the 11th of the month. But that’s tomorrow, so we’ll just leave it there.


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