The gender divide in fiction: sexism by the back door?
Let me tell you what I’m trying to do as an author, and why I think more authors should be doing it.
When I was a boy - about forty-five years ago now - boys and girls had very different likes. Boys liked Action Man, girls liked Barbie; boys liked toy tanks, girls liked toy ponies. But more than this, their reading matter was different: girls liked Judy and Bunty, boys liked Victor and Commando. Girls liked Enid Blyton’s The Twins at St Clare’s and Malory Towers, boys liked Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators and Franklin W Dixon’s The Hardy Boys. But even in those days, boys didn’t read as much as girls.
The divide has widened since then. According to a 2009 OECD report, in almost every country in the world, girls read for enjoyment more than boys. On average, only about half of boys read for enjoyment; in Austria, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Liechtenstein, less than 40% do so. Girls read fiction and magazines more than boys, but boys are more likely to read newspapers and comic books.
I grew up in the 1960s. You only have to watch Mad Men to know how bad the situation was for women in those days. Nowadays, it’s pretty much taken for granted by most intelligent people that men and women are intellectually broadly similar.
Except in fiction, it seems, where it’s still chick-lit and romance for women, and guns-‘n muscles for men. Penny Vincenzi and Jill Mansell for women, Andy McNab and Frederick Forsyth for men. Here, a kind of self-imposed separation still holds sway.
Of course, there are gender-neutral genres: crime, for example, and fantasy. But we don’t know enough about these to know whether men and women approach them differently, expecting different things from them. There may be subtle sub-categories within these genres.
Imagine if authors, instead of trying to profit from the gender divide, tried to write romance not for women but for men and women, and espionage and war fiction not for men but for both genders equally.
Of course, the publishing world wouldn’t like this. Making a profit is about targeting your market. If the target’s too broad, maybe anyone can hit it.
Anyway, as a child of the ‘60s, it’s what I’m trying to do. After all, that’s one of the advantages of self-publication: you don’t have to worry about moulding your material to a pre-constructed, pliant market. You can write what you want.
In short, I want to make romance attractive to men, and guns-‘n-muscles attractive to women. And get us all talking to each other again. About books … and life.
It’s going to be a long hard struggle. Meanwhile, I’ve written to Penny Vincenzi and Andy McNab suggesting they collaborate on their next novel, make it a joint effort. Next week, I’m going to write to Jill Mansell and Frederick Forsyth suggesting the same thing.
You can help out. Name the two authors you’d like to see collaborate. Then write to them.
Or bang their heads together.
When someone starts assassinating paparazzi in three countries, MI7 sits up. Apparently, the killer is none other than Dmitri Vassyli Kramski, retired SVR field-operative and former Kremlin protégé. True, the Cold War is long finished, but everyone knows Vladimir Putin is as unhappy for Russia to play second fiddle on the international stage as even the most strident of his Communist predecessors. In 2010 therefore, East-West relations remain as tortuous as ever.
Kramski’s trail leads deep into London’s émigré community, forcing his pursuers into conflict with an unknown organisation bent on protecting him. Bit by bit, he begins to look less like a professional assassin and more like someone plotting to scupper the foundations of Western democracy itself. To compound matters, the Russians are as baffled by him as anyone.
Genre – Espionage Thriller
Rating – PG
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