I finished a novel by J. D. Robb the other day and also happened to read the back inside cover blurb: “Nora Roberts is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than one hundred novels. She is also the author of the bestselling futuristic suspense series written under the pen name J. D. Robb. With more than 145 million copies of her books in print and more than sixty-nine New York Times bestsellers to date, Nora Roberts is indisputably the most celebrated and beloved women’s fiction writer today.” Why the qualification women’s fiction? My guess is that with those numbers, she’s a well celebrated and beloved fiction writer, period.
And what exactly is ‘women’s fiction’? Fiction by women? Unlikely. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird would be women’s fiction then. As would be Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
Fiction for women? And what’s that, fiction that women are interested in? As if all women are interested in the same things. We are as different from each other as we are from each man. It’s painfully clear that not all women are interested even in feminism/sexism. Just as not all black people are interested in racism. (Is Mockingbird ever called ‘black fiction’?) And J. D. Robb’s “Death” series, of which the book I read is part, is about a cop, murder, good and evil, justice – men aren’t interested in these things? Since when? And her “Key” series, written under her romance writer pen name, Nora Roberts, is described thus: “Three women. Three keys. Each has 28 days to find her way through a dangerous quest. If one fails, they all lose. If they all succeed, money, power, and a new destiny await each of them. It will take more than intellect, more than determination. They will have to open their hearts, their minds, and believe that everything and anything is possible.” Success, money, power, destiny – of interest only to women? Hardly.
Even if Roberts does write about romance and love – well, I can see that men are not interested in romance, because it’s a fantasy of love that has more benefits for women than men; men prefer the other fantasy, porn, which has more benefits for men than women. But we’re in big trouble if men aren’t interested in love. (Women, take note.)
Or is ‘women’s fiction’ fiction about women? Well, yes, Robb’s and Roberts’ fiction typically, if not always, features a female main character. So, what, when the main player is female, men aren’t interested? Wow. Let me say that again: when the main player is female, men aren’t interested. That explains a lot. It also predicts a lot.
(So fiction about men is men’s fiction? I’ve never even heard the phrase ‘men’s fiction’. Let alone heard it applied to fiction with male main characters. That would make To Kill a Mockingbird and Atlas Shrugged men’s fiction. I’ve certainly read a lot of men’s fiction, then.)
And why is that women are interested in both women’s fiction and men’s fiction, but men are interested only in men’s fiction? That is, why is it that men are interested only in reading about members of their own sex? I suspect it’s because it’s not really, or not just, the case that they aren’t interested in reading about women – it’s that they don’t consider women important/valuable. (Recall the Jane and John study done, what, thirty years ago? Two essays were presented to the subjects, one written by ‘Jane Smith’ and one written by ‘John Smith’; the one by John Smith was given higher grades by both male and female students, despite being identical to the one by Jane Smith.)
According to an article by Katha Pollitt (“Invisible Women”), op-ed editors wonder where the women are. (“In nine weeks, only 20 percent of pieces [in The Los Angeles Times op-ed pages] were written by women”; all five of USA Today’s political columnists are male, all Time’s eleven columnists are male, one of six in print and two of thirteen online for Newsweek….) Pollitt lists fourteen women op-ed writers ‘off the top of her head’; I’ve heard of most of them – why haven’t they mentioned op-ed editors? It seems to support what I’m saying: when a woman is the main player, men just aren’t interested – it doesn’t even register on their radar.
And consider Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum who apparently mused upon the absence of women bloggers and, says Pollitt, got a major earful from women bloggers, “who are understandably sick of hearing that they don’t exist. ‘I’m staring you right in the face, Kevin,’ wrote Avedon Carol (sideshow.me.uk), ‘and even though you’ve said you read me every day you don’t have me on your blogroll.’” Why are women so underrepresented? Because male gatekeepers don’t see them, aren’t interested in them, don’t consider them important or valuable. Because they’re writing women’s stuff? Like women’s fiction? About cops and murder and good and evil and justice?
- Peg Tittle, What Happened to Tom (Inanna, 2016)