Monday, May 21, 2018

The Book Lover's Den No. 27: Gender and Fiction/Nonfiction Genres, Part 1

Welcome to my renewed literary musing feature! I have decided 
to post it on Mondays now!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

This Week's Topic
 Are gender and fiction/nonfiction genres always connected? 

In the ongoing, heated debates regarding gender and certain attitudes and behaviors, one important topic, which I'm sure has already been discussed by other book bloggers, is the connection between a person's gender and the type of fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter) s/he reads.  

I'm delving into this topic today because of a rather annoying incident I was involved in, about three years back.  This incident has stayed with me, and I think the time has come for me to fully and boldly address it. Thus, even though I'm sure this is not a new topic, this post reflects my personal take on the matter.

At the time, my husband and I were looking for new digs. We had decided to buy a condo, and, therefore, contacted a local realtor's office in order to get some expert advice. 

Our realtor, a woman, would always take us to see apartments accompanied by her own husband, who turned out to be a high school teacher, as well as an avid reader. So, inevitably, our conversations while going on these apartment-hunting expeditions would occassionally turn to books. 

On one such occasion, I happened to mention, during the conversation, that I greatly enjoyed reading science fiction novels. (I know I've probably mentioned this incident in other posts, but it has annoyed me to such an extent that I must mention it again. Please forgive the repetition.) Well, this man's reaction to my remark was not only instantaneous, but extremely annoying, as well as rather patronizing. 

The man was actually SHOCKED that I would make such a statement. In fact, he replied, "But you're a WOMAN! Women don't read science fiction!" For a few seconds, I didn't know what to say in response. The vehemence with which he uttered those words, almost as if I had personally offended him, just caught me completely by surprise. So I was simply speechless for a few seconds. Then, feeling that I had to offer some sort of defense, as I felt attacked, I rather feebly replied, "Well, I also love reading romance novels." At that point, I saw his wife GLARE  at him. (They were both in the front seat, as it was their car we were riding in. My husband and I were sitting in the back.)

His wife's glare spoke volumes: "Sweetheart, these are our CUSTOMERS. Our bread and butter. You don't antagonize CUSTOMERS." LOL. Her glare was effective, and he immediately clammed up, and did not pursue the matter. (My own husband very wisely kept out of the argument. Lol.) But it has lingered in my memory ever since, and I felt that I should address this topic at length. I might even need a second TBLD post, in order to do it justice.

I must confess to being a rather idealistic, naive person in certain areas. For instance, I really and truly thought that, once the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been signed, racism had come to an end. Well, the current administration is solid proof that it hasn't, but instead, has even seemed to gather more force since that so-called president took office. 

It therefore seems evident that, in spite of the several waves of feminism -- five so far, according to Google -- certain VERY dated attitudes toward women are still around, in this 21st century. In this regard, the present administration has also been responsible for keeping such attitudes alive, and even bringing them back in full force. 

I had hoped, however, that I would not encounter a remark such as the one directed to me by this man, in the year 2015. Again, my naivete and idealism got the better of me.....

Not only did I give a very weak "defense", but also, I allowed an obvious male chauvinist to intimidate me. I then sheepishly (I could kick myself, too!) admitted to reading romance novels, as well, as if to PLACATE this man! WHY, I wonder. Why did I feel the need to let him know that I was a "normal", feminine woman, since I also read romance novels? Most importantly, WHY did I allow this man to intimidate me, which was what he actually did, since he even RAISED HIS VOICE at me, in obvious shock and offense? 

And thus the topic of this post. Does gender have anything to do with the type of fiction (and/or nonfiction a person reads? On the surface, it would seem so. For instance, there are very few men who actually read and enjoy romance novels. And yet, we have men like Nicholas Sparks writing them. (On the other hand, I've noticed that ALL of Sparks's novels have sad endings, something which goes against the ironclad, unwritten rule that romance novels MUST always have happy endings. I therefore totally avoid reading his, lol.)

The question remains, however: should sweeping generalizations be made as to the "appropriateness" of reading matter to a given gender? I would say that, obviously, no such sweeping generalizations should be made. No two people, of whatever gender, are going to enjoy the same types of fiction genres, or even, for that matter, the same types of nonfiction books. Just because someone is a certain gender doesn't mean they HAVE to enjoy reading certain genres.  Where the heck is THAT written?

I happen to be a VERY eclectic reader. I am what could be termed "a mood reader". I will read a given type of book according to my mood at the moment. However, I am also what I am now calling "an intellectual question-of-the-moment reader". If I happen to be pondering a certain topic at a particular point in time, I will want to read books on the subject. Perhaps that has something to do with my mood at the time, as well, but the topic in question will not be one driven by emotion, but by intellectual curiosity, instead. There are times when certain topics just "grab" me, and won't let go. At such times, I will search for a nonfiction book, rather than a novel, of whatever genre.

My point is, whose BUSINESS is it which type of nonfiction book, or which fiction genre, I reach for, when a particular emotional or intellectual mood gets a hold of me? (This is a topic all by itself, as well.) Who the HECK has the right to tell me what I can and cannot read, according to my gender? Who has the right to tell me what is "appropriate" for a woman to read ?! The obvious answer is: NOBODY. I am an adult, and I have free will. (Of course, there unfortunately exist those people -- mostly men, but paradoxically, there are ALSO women -- who feel that THEY have the right to tell women what they should or shouldn't read, based on their gender. Well, let them stew in their own juices in complete frustration. I will read what I decide to read, and I do NOT care who judges me on the basis of my gender!

If I had a time machine...... Oh, if ONLY I had a time machine..... I would go back to that incident, and THIS time, I would not sheepishly reply that "I also read romance novels". OH, NO. I would say, "Well, thank you for pointing out the obvious fact that I am a woman. (accompanied by a smirk) Now, I fail to see what the HELL that has to do with my choice of reading matter!" But, of course, that wouldn't have been POLITE, would it? No, such a response would have violated the STILL unwritten rules that women MUST be polite, demure, certainly NOT strident, or bold in the statement of their opinions. Right? 

Well, I guess we STILL have a LOOOOONG way to go...... I'm sure that a GREAT FEMALE SF author I happen to know, S.J. Higbee, who blogs at Brainfluff, would have calmly responded to that guy, "How interesting that you feel that way, since you are speaking with a female SF author, dear sir." And she would have given this reply with a very sweet, but totally ironic, smile. Well, I must admit that such a reply might have embarrassed him more than my strident one (which never took place, anyway) would have. Still, I would have LOVED to have replied that way to this guy!

Oh, this will DEFINITELY be continued! Stay tuned for next week's post! 

What are your thoughts on
 this topic?
Please leave me a comment
and let me know!


  1. Goodness, I bet you were kicking yourself afterwards! I don’t read romance at all, apart from YA fiction, and that’s because a children’s/teen librarian is who I am, not what, and my female library users enjoy romance of various kinds. You’re right, you didn’t owe him anything. Perhaps if some man says that again, you might say sweetly,”Really? I didn’t know most men read at all. Do you read?”

    No one has ever said it to me, but in SF fandom, as opposed to merely enjoying SF, the men I hang out with tend to like the same stuff I do. I’m betting this guy you met read nothing but newspapers and magazines and didn’t know what SF is. Yes, even a schoolteacher - my colleagues at my school spend so much time preparing classes that few of them have time to read for pleasure.

    Recently, I went out for lunch with friends from the US, a couple I went to school with before they married and went to live in California where his family came from. They drop in to visit every couple of years. Suddenly, after all these years, I discovered my old school friend Bill liked SF. Not only SF but some of the writers I enjoy, when he asked me if I’d read Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Not sure how the conversation started, but HE asked ME! “Oh, yes, I loved that one!” I enthused and we chatted about SF. He would have been shocked at the notion that women don’t read it.

    1. Hi, Sue!

      Yeah, I was indeed kicking myself afterward.... But I didn't want a heated argument taking place. This guy's wife obviously didn't, either, judging from her glare. It was a "between a rock and a hard place" situation, which is why I responded as I did. But I really wish I had been more assertive. Oh, well..... No time machine available to jump back and do that! Lol.

      As for his reading matter, yes, he did read books. In fact, he was working on a historical fiction novel at the time. He even mentioned this during one of our apartment searches. So that was partly why I was so surprised!

      It's great that you haven't encountered this attitude with the men you're acquainted with. I guess I just "got lucky" and encountered a Neanderthal! LOL.

      Thanks for the interesting comment!! <3 :)

  2. Great post as always Maria. I think most of us have little incidents in the past in which we acted in s certain way that we regret and wish that we could go back.

    Obviously No type of reading is inappropriate for any group. That applies to gender, ethnicity, etc. Telling people what they should read is ridiculous. While large groups of women or large groups of men might be more partial to a particular genre, when it comes to individuals, stereotyping makes no sense. There are men who love romance novels. There are women who do not like them.

    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thanks for the compliment!! <3 <3

      Yes, we all definitely have such moments! As the saying goes, "Hindsight is 20-20." Lol. I just wish I had been more assertive in my reply, but then again, it was a rather difficult situation. It wouldn't have been good if we had gotten into an argument. Still, I could have replied in a more forthright manner. Oh, well....

      It's TOTALLY ridiculous, in this day and age, to state, in a dogmatic manner, that women are not supposed to read SF. it's ridiculous to make such sweeping statements for ANY group, as you have pointed out.

      You are SO right in stating that, while large groups of men and women may prefer certain genres, things can be different where individuals are involved. Some women do indeed avoid romance novels. Personally, I don't know of any men who like them, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. I wonder why some people SO enjoy stereotyping.... I guess it easier for their brains to place EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE in "categories". Lol. I've always been a nonconformist to some extent, so this makes NO sense to me! It's just TOO simplistic, as the world, and LIFE, are much too varied for that!

      Thanks for the solidarity, as well as the interesting comment!! <3 :)

  3. There are men who WRITE romance novels! 😁 Some do it under female names for Mills and Boon, or there’s Frank Yerby, who used to write historical romance, though usually seen from the man’s viewpoint.

    1. Hi, again, Sue!

      Yes, indeed there are! And I can see why they use female pen names, as they, too, don't want to be stereotyped! Lol.

  4. Wow, this kind of makes me angry. Women can read ANY genre they want and I can't believe some people (MEN GRRRR) actually think we can't. This kind of reminds me that most people/men assume my history instagram account is run by a guy just because it's all about history. It's ridiculous.

    1. Hi, Steph!

      Yeah, it makes me mad, too!! At the time this incident took place, I was feeling more surprised and bewildered than mad, though. It was later that I felt angry.

      As I mentioned to Sue in my reply to her first comment, this guy should have known better than to say something like that, because he was actually writing a historical novel! So he was no dummy. Plus, he was (is) a TEACHER. I thought that surely a teacher would NEVER have made such a comment! This guy is supposed to be an EDUCATED person. But I guess that even such people have opinions and beliefs that are set in stone....Lol.

      It's TOTALLY ridiculous that people assume your Instagram History account is run by a guy, just because of the subject matter. We women are interested in history, too!!

      Thanks for the great comment!! HUGS!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

  5. Thank you for your kind namecheck, Maria:). Yes... when I've been to a number of gatherings and mention I'm an author, there is often a moment of slack-jawed shock and spluttering when I reply that I write science fiction and fantasy in answer to the inevitable question - mostly by men. It's significant that many women are delighted.

    However, I do think that a lot of the blatant genderism that happens around book covers encourages and underlines that schoolteacher's assumptions that men read one kind of book and women read another. My husband tends to read more romance books than I do, for instance - in amongst the shedload of historical texts and space opera books. But this is a vexed question.

    The man is clearly an idiot - what a shame he is moulding young minds! As for your response - I think you are being overly hard on yourself, given that it was because you were adrift with surprise that anyone would say something so crass and untrue...

    1. Hi, Sarah!

      You're very welcome for the mention!! <3 <3

      So YOU have encountered this NEANDERTHAL attitude at several gatherings? WOW. And yes, how very significant that it's the men who are shocked, while the women are delighted! Lol.

      Have you also come across this attitude at SF-themed author conventions, and/or regular SF conventions? I would think that men who write SF would be more open-minded.

      That's an interesting point you're making about book covers. I hadn't thought of that. I think I'll compare SF covers of books written by male and female authors in a future "Shelf Candy Saturday" post. That should prove interesting! Thanks for the idea!! <3 <3

      Yes, this guy is DEFINITELY an idiot! And you're right -- it's a real shame he deals with impressionable young minds!

      Yeah, maybe I AM being too hard on myself. I was between a rock and a hard place, after all. Hubby and I were out looking for a condo. It was a rather awkward situation. But the idiot's wife sure took control! LOL. And he quickly subsided, too. Methinks there was more to that than met the eye, at that moment! LOL. LOL. LOL.

      Thanks for the TERRIFIC comment!! HUGS!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

      That's an in


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