I find I’m always interested in feminist perspectives, whether it’s in regards to literature, pop culture, or current events. Feminist Fridays is going to be my forum for discussing these issues, and may come in the form of book (or other media) reviews, link roundups, or
my rambling thoughts essays. If you’d like to make a habit of discussing feminist issues on Fridays, join in and leave me a link. If you’d like to contribute a guest post for Feminist Fridays, I’d be happy to chat with you about that was well, so contact me!
Earlier this week, some people started noticing that the female authors on the “American Novelists” Wikipedia page were all being moved to a sub-page “American Women Novelists” because there were simply too many listings on the main page. I saw chatter on social media about it and then a link to this op-ed in The New York Times.
I agree with the outrage. Women shouldn’t be relegated a sub-category and when you Google “American novelists” the results shouldn’t be exclusively male. As I’m typing this at just after midnight CST on April 26, 2013, there’s one of those pink notes at the top of the page that alerts viewers that the page is considered being merged with “American novelists” inviting me to contribute to the discussion.
But because the categorization of information is a big part of my job, I can sympathize with those editors who want to make classifications as specific as possible while still being appropriately broad.
The title of the op-ed piece is “Wikipedia’s Sexism towards Female Novelists.” But Wikipedia is “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” Wikipedia’s sexism is our sexism.It’s user generated. In theory, it’s democratic, which is why that pink box popped up so quickly in response to these changes.
Last summer, when I was being asked by every patron that walked into the teen zone at the library for a book “like The Hunger Games” I got so frustrated with having nothing to hand a kid because all the popular titles were checked out, so I made a flowchart. It was intended to be just a tool we used at the library, but we also posted it on our website and it got quite a bit of attention and re-posted in other outlets. Because I’d started with the three most popular read-alikes in our library, the first question was “what kind of narrator do you want?” and led to a book narrated by a guy, a book narrated by a girl, and Legend, which has dual narration alternating between a male and female character. From there I grouped books by other topics that might interest fans of The Hunger Games. Though most people reactive positively, a few places, there were some comments that really came down on me hard, as a person, for this way of categorizing the books (and I’ve since changed it in subsequent versions when I added new releases).
Now, I’m not a person who thinks there are “boy” books and “girl” books, and I don’t usually start a conversation about books with the discussion of gender. It is a routine request, however, and something that patrons often bring up themselves. Boys aren’t shy about insisting right off the bat that they want a guy main character (at least in my experience). Publishers make it pretty easy for them to tell most of the time if it’s got a girl as the main character, because they put a girl in a prom dress on the cover, so often even if I do offer a book that might be of interest to them otherwise, they often reject it based on the cover art.
This isn’t a new problem or a new conversation, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking with regards to reader’s advisory.
Today a post popped up in my blog reader (I’m trying out Bloglovin after being disappointed with Feedly’s web system, and still mourning the inevitable end of Google Reader, for those interested) from Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks (whose taste I very much respect) who was over at Fantasy Books Cafe talking about her favorite women sci-fi/fantasy writers for Women in Sci-fi/Fantasy Month. I’ve picked up lots of great books, SFF and otherwise, based on Heidi’s recommendations, so I immediately opened Goodreads in a new tab, ready to add to my growing TBR pile.
Like Heidi, the first SFF I read was written by male authors. The guys in my life who dug SFF didn’t exactly seek out male writers on principle, but that happened to be what they read and liked. A lot of it didn’t resonate with me, and it wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties and started reading book blogs by women who mostly read women authors that I decided to give SFF another try.
It’s hard for me to explain why I seek out women writers or why I feel more of a connection to the stories they write. The same was true when I picked out my English elective in college—I took major women writers and loved the discussions with my mostly female classmates led by my female professors.
Now, and then, I’m more inclined to read a book written by a woman than a man.
I’m still thinking a lot about “New Adult” literature (which I posted about here and here), so this post I saw on Tumblr about “new adult books yet to be classified as such” caught my eye. A lot of the coverage of New Adult has framed it as contemporary romance with 20-somethings protagonists, a rebranding of chick lit, or YA with more sex. This list of books with male protagonists by male authors contains titles that fit some of the other criteria or exhibit some of the distinguishing marks of the new category, but aren’t really talked about it those terms.
Most of us approach reading or think of books in gendered terms, whether we acknowledge it or not. It can render women invisible, like when we relegate women authors to the sub-page, or it can spotlight their achievements and make them more visible, as I’m sure the Women in Sci-fi/fantasy series of blog posts was intended to do. It can help us find the books we most want to read, or it can keep us from discovering titles that would otherwise thrill us.
Do you seek out authors on the basis of gender? Do you gravitate to male or female characters, whether consciously or unconsciously? Do you think it is helpful or counterproductive to note the gender of authors or characters when recommending books to others?