The Accidental Feminist

The Accidental Feminist: Women’s Fiction is Not a Genre

I am making a point this year to read more women authors, for a variety of reason. And honestly, since I never considered myself particularly sexist, I wasn’t expecting it to change me beyond reading and enjoying some voices I don’t normally read.

Well, I’m halfway through the year, and I think it’s time to admit it: I was wrong. I have learned a lot. So I decided to supplement my normal book reviews with some blog posts on my education as an Accidental Feminist. This is the first one:

The idea of “Women’s Fiction” as a genre is ludicrous.

Look, I understand why genres exist. It’s all very nice for me as a writer to say “fiction should just be fiction! Anyone can enjoy my novel!” But as a reader, I’m usually looking for something in particular. Knowing if a book is a space fantasy or a crime procedural is helpful in deciding if I want to read it right now. But with “women’s fiction,” (with a few subgenre exceptions like, say, romance), that isn’t what’s going on. The existence of the genre is actually preventing potential readers from knowing the books exist. The truth is, most “women’s fiction” novels are only distinct from general fiction or literary fiction by virtue of being written by a woman, with a (usually) female lead character. This creates obvious obstacles for women authors, obstacles that are inherent in any ghettoization system. Lots of other writers and bloggers have posted about that, and I might get into it in further posts. But what struck me recently is, how is that helpful to readers?

I’ll never forget when I got my first email from Amazon referencing past books I’d read and suggesting some other “women’s fiction” novels I might like. After my initial reflexive insult-to-my-masculinity response (I’m human, sorry), I was mostly left with the insult to my intelligence. If I weren’t making an overt attempt to read women this year, how would I have discovered Siri Hustvedt, or Deborah Reed, or Catherine Ryan Hyde, or Gabrielle Zevin? The answer is, I probably wouldn’t have. And that’s a shame not just for those female authors, but for the rest of us who need to hear their voices.

Plus, it’s just not a good way to sell books.

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