A Cause for Concern: Female Fiction Writers

To celebrate the release of Intisar Khanani’s novel Sunbolt, she is calling bloggers to post about a topic of concern for them. She is also hosting a giveaway including a $100 donation to charity or non-profit, artwork, and multiple signed novels. Click here to see the giveaway!

For the cause-for-concern posts, Khanani is encouraging bloggers and readers alike to write on an issue close to their hearts. While I was originally going to write on women’s rights, (a vast topic), I realized that the majority of people who would be listening to me would be writers or readers themselves. As such, I decided to put the topic of sexism into an arena said audience would be familiar with; the business of fiction.

Female authors are often seen as less-than in the eyes of many in the book world, whether they be reviewers, customers, or even other writers themselves.

For example, let’s look at book covers. Covers for books written by women are generally more stereotypically “girly” in appearance. As such, men are more likely to avoid them. As one person tweeted author Maureen Johnson, “Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. – signed, A Guy”. Since, in today’s sexist culture, “girly” things are seen as being for explicitly girls only, it puts a limit on the audience willing to pick up that book. Take a look at the slideshow in this article, and look at the multiple versions of “girly” versus more broad and/or “manly” covers. You should see what I mean.

Also? Names. One of the first things J. K. Rowling was old by her publisher was that boys wouldn’t want to read a book by a female author. So, instead of going as Joanne, J. K. it was. While some people no longer believe that readers disregard female authors based off their name, it will often affect the perceptions of readers concerning a book. In such a perspective for example, a man may think that a book written about family life by a man contains valuable insight from which he can draw. If written by a woman? It’s sentimental drivel. (If you think this sounds ridiculous, good on you. Some do still think this way, however. I’ve experienced and witnessed it firsthand.)

Female writers also catch crap for writing in traditionally male-dominated genres. Ann Aguirre, a science fiction writer, was once told “It’s bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?” She had even reported being treated as inferior by male writers with whom she was on panels with, being called degrading names, being bossed around, being told she should step down, etc.

And lastly, reviews. Book reviewers often review far more male-written novels than female, some percentages being so bad that only 14% of the books reviewed by a certain establishment will be from women. And yet, roughly half the published material out there it produced by women. Even the New York Times has rates as bad as consistently reviewing two male-written books for every female one reviewed. You can check out more stats for yourself here. The ratios are appalling.

The roots of sexism are deeply ingrained into our culture, and it manifests itself in a multitude of ways. As readers and writers alike, we must keep a sharp eye out and combat sexism wherever we happen upon it, within the book world or without. Don’t assume that simply because it’s a woman writing, the writing will be of a lower caliber and/or have less insight to offer. Don’t assume that women can’t write in certain genres just as well as men can. Give female authors equal treatment in the handling and status of their work. It is not too much to ask, and it’s time for us to make a change.


2 thoughts on “A Cause for Concern: Female Fiction Writers

  1. Hi Eli – Wow, what a through-provoking (and unsettling) post! It’s often easy to forget (or “not see”) sexism at play because we’ve either been programmed to disregard it, or it is so structuralized that we don’t realize it’s there. You’ve made me stop and think about my covers very carefully … and I do think one of them falls into the “girly” category. It might be time for a cover redesign! Thanks so much for taking part in “A Cause for Concern.”


    • I’m happy that you enjoyed reading this!
      And it’s not to say that all stereotypically girly covers are bad, but the audience generally thinks less of them, which is unfortunate.
      You’re very welcome. Thanks for inviting me to take part! :)

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