Women in Fiction, Part 3

So my contention is that men don’t want to read books that feature women. (Unless, of course, there are pictures! 😳 )

Here’s my thinking. Part of the reading experience is identifying with the main character. Men don’t want to identify with a woman. They’d feel less than a man.

Women, on the other hand, like to read books about either gender. We can identify with the female character and we can better understand men by understanding the male character.

Big generalities, I know, but I think there’s something to it. Here’s my theory.

What do we have in the book business? Mostly romance, written mostly by women. And yet in the CBA, most of the acquiring editors are men. I’m guessing a good number of the individuals on the pub boards (the ones making the decisions about what books to publish) are men, too.

The men making the decisions don’t know that women readers will read books with a variety of protagonists. They think women readers are like them, wanting to read about a character like them.

So they acquire books they think will appeal to women, knowing that manly-men won’t touch those books with a pole-vault-sized pole.

The problem is, those books only appeal to some women and to no men. The market is fairly closed, and perhaps even shrinking.

The “man books,” however, seem to do pretty well. Of course, I’m not privy to sales records, so I could be wrong, but I’ve seen Ted Dekker’s name on the best selling list a time or two. 🙂

But not every author is as successful. One of the best authors in the CBA, in my opinion, is one few have read. Why? His books are “man books” and men didn’t find out about them. They’re also “man books” dealing with overly-mined territory.

But here’s what happens. Because those books didn’t meet the publisher’s expectation, the report is, this particular house won’t be publishing any more books for men. They tried, and it didn’t work.

One series.

Guys who like sports might prefer a sports book, but that wasn’t an option. Those who want to read books with car chases and lots of explosions wouldn’t have found a book to their liking. In other words, no one novel fits all men.

And no one novel fits all women. But that’s not something women have to worry about because publishers have expanded their fiction selection for women. Besides romance (and there’s an abundance of that) women can choose from suspense, cozy mysteries, woman’s fiction, historicals, and even fantasy (think Karen Hancock and Sharon Hinck).

How many of those books are gender-crossovers?

Are such books possible? Desirable?

Still more to say about this subject. Another day.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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  1. Very interesting thoughts, Becky! It does seem weird to me that the CBA market is women. What about Christian men? What are they reading?


  2. Sadly, I believe, Christian men really aren’t reading. This needs to be changed, of course, but that is the sad fact.

    But I would like to contend your contention: Real Men (as in men who are truly manly in a Biblical sense) do not mind identifying with a female character. It might be easier for a woman to identify with a male character, but that doesn’t mean we don’t identify with female characters.

    Part of the problem that I believe you are seeing, is that literature as a whole has deteriorated dramatically over the past couple centuries or so. Lines have been blurred, morals have been perverted, and real thought has been almost eliminated.

    Part of the effect of this is the utter destruction of the gender differences. The way this has manifested itself has left real men with little recourse but to abscond from the book scene, leaving women with almost entire possession of it. What is left, and we can find, we do read voraciously.

    The deciding factor is worldview, though, not the gender of the MC.


  3. Ah, Becky…just as you detest the stereotyping of female characters, beware of stereotyping the male audience.

    Yeah, I know. I’m the guy who took the jacket off Faery Rebels to forestall embarrassing questions from my co-workers. 🙂 But, I liked the story (which, incidentally, featured a strong, resourceful heroine who didn’t sacrifice her femininity), and I could rattle off a long list of books I have enjoyed immensely, all with female protagonists and no pictures. Jane Eyre, A Wrinkle in Time, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, David Weber’s Honor Harrington stories, etc, etc.

    Am I atypical? Maybe. Weird? Probably. However, I have trouble buying the idea that men aren’t readers, either by wiring or inclination. I’m sitting in a Barnes & Noble right now, and the crowd is about a 50/50 split, male/female, and that’s what I usually see. Certainly, men have different tastes in reading, and the guys I work with are usually carrying around something non-fiction that has a practical application to their daily life (personal finance, politics, military history), a newspaper, or an action/adventure novel. A lot of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, etc. As for Christian guys, mostly theology and self-help.

    As to romance, I also think that guys do care about emotions, can process “complex emotional content,” and if they’re in a serious relationship with a woman, or contemplating one, understanding how emotions work in that context is very high on their priority list. Where I think the difference lies is that men aren’t so much in love with the *idea* of falling in love, which is the centerpiece of romance stories.

    From a guy’s point of view, that’s an exercise in frustration, because we can never measure up to the expectations created by that very formulaic fantasy world. For example, it’s not enough for a boy to just ask a girl to the prom anymore, it has to be done in a “cute” way that’s evaluated against the norms of teen romance media and literature. Getting beat about the head and shoulders with a 300-page reminder of one’s inadequacy as a romantic lead is not exactly a fun afternoon’s entertainment for either a teen or an adult male.

    I’d like to see the CBA accept more risk and pursue more innovation in the books they support and promote. Stocking shelves with sanitized knock-offs of whatever’s trendy on the secular side isn’t a recipe for long-term growth and prosperity, nor is ignoring half their potential market.

    Great points and insightful discussion as always, Becky. I’m gonna go hit something with a rock now. 🙂


  4. Naw, Fred, you’re not weird. So, you like Jane Eyre, too?

    Ironically, earlier today I posted a blog entry in which I compared romance novels to fantasy.

    Good series of posts, Becky. They have me thinkin’.


  5. “Women, on the other hand, like to read books about either gender. We can identify with the female character and we can better understand men by understanding the male character.”

    Interesting… as a female who reads a great deal, I would agree with that statement. I am curious, though. Why wouldn’t the reverse also be true? Why do you think that men can’t learn about us through reading books with female main characters?

    I can’t answer for all men, but most of the ones I know (including my dad and brother) don’t mind reading books with female main characters. Now, of course, they don’t like “romance novels”… but then, neither do I. 🙂 (Of course, I realize I’m not exactly a typical woman…) That is not to say that they won’t read books with romance in them, though. G. A. Henty books (historical fiction– if you haven’t heard of them, you probably aren’t around homeschooolers often. :)) nearly all have some romance, and they are very popular with boys. At least homeschooled ones.

    Anyway, just some of my thoughts. 🙂


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