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women’s fiction, men’s fiction

About ten years ago, during the keynote lunch at the San Diego State Writers’ Conference, we were supposed to sit at the table whose center placard best described what we wrote. The choices were Memoir, Sci-Fi, Thrillers, Mysteries, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, and more. But not Men’s Fiction.

I didn’t know whether to sit at the table for Literary Fiction (what I hoped I was learning how to write) or at the table for Women’s Fiction (what was that exactly?).

People often ask me what kind of books I write. And, darn it, why is that such a difficult question? Sometimes they give me multiple choices, again like the table placards. A) Mysteries, B) Love Stories, C) Sci-Fi?

Literary Fiction, by the way, is never an option. The people who ask me want to know, and understandably so, about content. What are your novels about? Another hard question. “I write about relationships,” I say. “Oh, love stories,” they say. And I say, “Sometimes. And sometimes not.”

In the April 1st NYT Sunday Book Review, in an essay entitled  “The Second Shelf” Meg Wolitzer answers this question regarding her own books:

“You know, contemporary, I guess,” I said. “Sometimes they’re about marriage. Families. Sex. Desire. Parents and children.”

In her essay, Meg discusses the big issue of “women’s fiction”:

When I refer to so-called women’s fiction, I’m not applying the term the way it’s sometimes used: to describe a certain type of fast-reading novel, which sets its sights almost exclusively on women readers and might well find a big, ready-made audience. I’m referring to literature that happens to be written by women.

Of course it would be absurd to divide book stores into women’s fiction and men’s fiction. Hopefully that’s not answering anyone’s question. And certainly in 2012, we’re not going to say “relationships” or “marriage” are topics only women are interested in, or that “the wilderness” or “sports” are only men’s topics. My husband reads almost everything I read. And I would read more of what he reads if I had more time to read.

Meg concludes her essay with these sentences:

And will “Women’s Fiction” become such an absurd category it’s phased out entirely? Maybe, in a more just world.

I vote we phase out the label “women’s fiction” now in an attempt to create a more just world.

Cross-posted at Catching Days

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Amy Wallen April 14, 2012, 1:27 pm

    Love this. I think it’s a brilliant idea–to just quit saying “women’s fiction.” I’ve often wondered the same thing–what’s Men’s Fiction? But maybe it’s like the line to the respective bathrooms–unfair.

    • cynthia newberry martin April 14, 2012, 2:35 pm

      Yes, Amy. Let’s just stop using the term. Now. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  • Kris Underwood April 14, 2012, 1:38 pm

    Fiction is fiction when it comes to gender.