Female Authors Are Rubbish

That’s the impression some men get when it comes to female authors. A male lecturer whose class I once sat for said that he was prejudiced against female authors and at one point before refused to read anything written by a female. In 2001, he changed his mind, tried his first book written by a female author, and since then no longer holds that chauvinistic view.

Maybe this is generalising, but I notice that men do not, or hardly ever, read books by female authors. Women would readily read a Tony Parsons or Nick Hornby novel, but men wouldn’t go near Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary or some female author’s book. This is something that has been going for hundreds of years already, really; female authors in the past have published under male nom de plumes or fashioning a gender-neutral initials-and-surname byline to hide their female names.

Is this a myth? Or are men still avoiding books by female authors? Is there a reason for this? I’d like a male perspective, or anyone’s for that matter.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cat
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 01:09:12

    Wasn’t the reason JK Rowling is JK instead of Joanne Kathleen Rowling to appeal to male readers and boys?

    I’d definitely say men are far more likely to read books by male authors, at least that’s what I see on the bus/train/cafe’s.

    nylusmilk: yup! just like one of my favourite books the outsiders, which is about boys in the hood, was written by s.e. hinton, a female. ;)

    Reply

    • J. Turbes
      Mar 05, 2012 @ 02:56:47

      The speculative (and somewhat self-serving) question of J.K. Rowling using gender-neutral initials instead of her full name begs a question: even after her identity became known, did she lose male readership? I doubt it. I call the question “self serving” because it obliquely continues the misconception that women authors are ignored by men because of their gender and not because of the merits of their writing.

      There seems to be a proliferation of women writing “romance/erotica” e-books. I offer just the first screen of “GoodReads” at http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/erotic-romance as an example. This could let me pose the same (and some would say self serving) question: do women predominate in this category because when men write erotic romance, it’s termed “pornography” and termed degrading of women, by women? Of course, one would have to see how many of these are written by men under a feminine pseudonym. Why? Because women nowadays seem to prefer women writers.

      Oh, and Job’s citing Victor Hugo and Dostoyevsky (sic – Dostoevsky) as examples of women writers not measuring up pits classical literature in a mono-medial age against current popular writing in a multimedia world. I doubt contemporary writers of either gender consciously try to measure up to either Black Vic or the big D. But in the medium of their day, both had a somewhat captive print audience. That’s certainly not so today. J. K. Rowling might not measure up to Job’s standards but she got kids (her intended audience, unlike Hugo/Dost.) away from the short attention span of their video games and TV and back to envisioning an imaginary world from the written page. Kudos!

      Reply

  2. B0bbyG
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 04:11:06

    Speaking as a male, I’m happy to read books by female authors. Margaret Atwood, JK Rowling, Mary Shelley, and Pat Barker are just 4 authors I’ve read books by in the last couple of months, all female.

    Although I admit I will think twice before picking up a book with female author and a pink cover.

    nylusmilk: so you’re not one of those that i have been generalising about then! :) so are you saying that if bridget jones’s diary came in a black cover, you might give it a go then? ;)

    Reply

  3. Meaghan
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 04:35:38

    I haven’t noticed any gender bias among people I know that read. JK Rowling, one of the most popular authors in the world, is female. Bridget Jones’s Diary is not just by a female author, it’s “chick lit,” and that’s probably a good part of the reason why men won’t read it. (For that matter, I’m female and hate chick lit also.)

    nylusmilk: why is it then she uses a gender-neutral name instead of joanne kathleen rowling, as carocat pointed out above? have you thought about that? :) while people have accepted rowling as one of the great story-tellers of our time, do you think she would have been given a chance by little boys when she was an unknown?

    well, i can understand not liking the genre, but only after having give it a go. why is it that female readers are more open to ‘lad lit’ books like hornby’s or parson’s but it’s not the same with male readers and chick lit?

    Reply

  4. Cat
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 08:03:02

    Well, I don’t like generalising. I’d say I wouldn’t go out of my way picking up so called chick lit, but I love Sohpie Kinsella.

    But take for example Patricia Cornwell, one of my favourite authors. I’ve never seen a man read them. Or Kathy Reichs.

    nylusmilk: oh, you too? i hated it at first, then fell hopelessly in love with the series. :P

    i’m generalising because of my limited knowledge about this issue; hence, asking your opinion along with others to learn more about it! :)

    interesting, i thought guys would read cornwell, her stuff is definitely more serious than shopping!

    Reply

  5. Chris@bookarama
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 09:03:08

    I read mostly female authors. I wouldn’t say women are better writers than men but I just prefer them.

    I think publishers are a lot to blame for that belief. Guys are put off by the cutesy covers and girly titles.

    The Brontes also went by male names when they sold their novels. It’s very sad to see that things haven’t changed much in a couple hundred years.

    nylusmilk: i guess guys could argue that they prefer male authors the way you prefer female authors! :) i think publishers stick with the tried-and-tested girly covers/titles because they want to focus on their target market, and they know that cover designs aren’t going to sway men into buying it. but, as you said, it’s still a sad thing that female authors aren’t given the chance because of their sex…

    Reply

  6. lovelyloey
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 13:30:05

    I know I am prejudiced against men, but I do think it’s because they are so darn chauvinistic and are afraid to actually read a book by a female author and feel that it was well written. My evidence? George Sand. ‘Nuff said.
    Hee hee.

    nylusmilk: haha, my favourite feminist’s two cents. :P let’s see if we get hear a defense for the male…

    Reply

  7. dissfunktional
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 17:36:19

    J.K. Rawlings and George Eliot both chose those names in order to hide their genders. George Eliot is actually Mary Ann (Marian) Evans.

    Are there any male authors that chose female names to hide their male gender?

    nylusmilk: yeap, and that says a lot! :)

    nope, not as far as i heard! i think female readers are more open to reading a male author’s work than the other way round, so there wouldn’t be a need to hide your name. which brings me back to the question of my post! ;)

    Reply

  8. B0bbyG
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 20:54:50

    Well, what guy would honestly call himself “Susan”? Penname or not, there’s a kind of taboo there.

    I can’t speak for all males, but in defense of myself, there’s no real reason why I’ve never read Bridget Jones’ Diary, I’ve just never read it. Changing the cover wouldn’t make any difference; I know of it by reputation, and it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get round to reading it eventually.

    Oh, and random fact: JK Rowling doesn’t actually have a middle name. Kathleen is only part of her penname, it’s not on her birth certificate.

    nylusmilk: haha, you have a point, yet why is it a woman have no qualms calling herself george? hmm…

    so her name’s only joanne rowling? what’s the kathleen for then? strange! :)

    Reply

  9. lovelyloey
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 21:26:32

    I’m not a feminist! I’m not a feminist! I don’t burn bras and think women are the greatest creatures alive (most of them aren’t)!

    Well, we never really know if some male go under a female nom de plume. Maybe your favourite porn-ish novels are all written by men! :P

    nylusmilk: hah, why i don’t believe that? ;)

    porn-ish novels, i wouldn’t be surprised if they were written by men; women are much subtler and more romantic generally!

    Reply

  10. cjwriter
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 01:52:15

    You know, I’ve never really thought about the gender of the authors I read; it’s always been the idea or the synopsis that’s caught my attention. I probably do read a few more male authors than female but most of my favourite writers are women; Kelly Link, Janette Turner Hospital, Margaret Atwood, PD James.

    I think the stereotype is true, but it’s often related to genre. If you took a poll, the majority of men would probably admit to reading adventure thrillers (Matt Reilly or Stephen Coonts) and biographies about history or sports stars (mostly male). Those kind of books are marketed almost exclusively at men and most of the authors are male, because they know what their audience wants. I suppose there’s an equivalent with chick lit, as it’s mostly female writers writing for women and they know their audience. SF and fantasy are heavily dominated by male writers as well, with a largely male readership. It becomes a standard and publishers get nervous when confronted with an author who doesn’t fit that standard; they won’t know how to market it, and often they’re the ones who force a pen name on a woman (or a man) as happened with JK Rowling.

    Of course it’s all a load of crap; anyone can write anything they want to and going against convention doesn’t mean that a book won’t succeed, just that it’s more of a risk. And there have been a few male writers who have used a female pseudonym. William Sharp used to write as Fiona MacLeod, and L. Frank Baum (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) wrote several stories as Edith Van Dyne and Laura Bancroft. Currently Paul Doherty writes under several female pen names, Anna Apostolou, Vanessa Alexander and Ann Dukthas. And there’s Roger Sanderson, one of the most successful romance writers of the last decade, but he has to write under the name Gill Sanderson because he’s the only male author at Mills and Boon. ;)

    For what it’s worth, the stereotype does happen in reverse as well. Some women are quite dismissive of male authors, or even classics. I was talking to someone about Wuthering Heights earlier and how it’s influenced authors like Stephanie Meyer. She said it was just a romance. One of the absolute classics of literature just a romance? Sure, and LOTR is just a fantasy. :?

    nylusmilk: thanks for the information about male authors using female pen names, interesting! strangely, i have not heard much about female readers not liking to read books by male authors; i have always thought female readers are more open to read a book without judging the gender of the author. i guess those are just exceptions like everything else in lfie.

    Reply

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  12. Jack A
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 02:11:09

    Hmm. Interesting points here. I am a voracious reader (2-3 books a week) and have often found that women writers don’t get the male perspective when it comes to mystery, detective books, etc. However, I have read a number of women writers who have effectively captured the genre (going back to Dorothy Sayers). I must admit, I really hate the schmalzy “chick flick” writing by folks whether they be male or female (I got ahold of a Nicholas Sparks book and just about gagged). I think it is a matter of perspective and how women tend to “process” things differently… just my two cents worth.

    nylusmilk: 2-3 books a week?? do you have a job? :)

    i like chick lit, but i can see why guys wouldn’t! thanks for your two cents, it made sense. (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    Reply

  13. Job
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 17:03:00

    The Harry Potter books, in my opinion, were weak children lit. I read The god of small things and it was dull. I’m reading Wolf Hall now. Maybe there is a style to feminine writing that doesn’t appeal to me. I never had a prejudice until Wolf Hall but i can’t say for certain that i’ll be picking up another book written by a female author. Unless of course they hide their name.

    Show a female author that compares to Victor Hugo or Dostoyevsky.

    Reply

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