Tuesday 27 September 2011

Sexism in Writing

I've recently started preliminary research for my history phd, which is very exciting (to me, anyway). My research doesn't centre around gender, but the growing role of women in medical practice during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is part of the background. Women were viewed (by men who were afraid of more competition for jobs) to be too emotional for the meticulous scientific practice of medicine. Seems strange to think of now, though many women of the time held that view too.

Nowadays, western women live in societies that purportedly embrace equality. And I think that men and women are generally different. But the way in which chick-lit writers are regarded shows that in writing, at least, there is still a long way to go.

Novelist Talli Roland wrote an insightful (and brilliantly titled) blog post last week that asked the question: why do women feel the need to apologise for the type of books they write. Men can write light fiction, and it isn't viewed as a sum of their total intellectual abilities. With women, a pastel cover apparently indicates: stupid, frivolous content.

Why haven't we moved on from this pettiness? I'm not going to get into the many issues that chick-lit has covered, because Talli is right. It shouldn't need  to be defended. And honestly? The people who spout this ridiculousness tend to have a chip on their shoulder, and their comments say more about them than the genre they're taking shots at. Like with the nineteenth century medical profession, these comments are more a sign of their fear of becoming irrelevant to the discussion.


  1. Cheers to that! My take on it is these issues peel to many layers back in an emotional way so rather than face them head on and seem vulnerable, society makes fun of it. Ridiculous if you ask me.

  2. YES!

    Thank you so much for the shout-out, and you're so right. Most of the comments come from fear, and it's important we remember that.

    And... top of the morning to you! (LOL, sorry!)

  3. I have just one thing to say - agreed!!

  4. I think this goes into all the media... there is both the disrespect for authors (and producers and directors) and for female characters. Part of the problem is men are less diverse in what they read and somehow only books read by men AND women get respect. There is a sexism though, that pervades pretty much everything. I hate it and would like it to go away. I mean I'm not a straight romance reader--it is my issue with 'a man completes me'--I don't buy 'getting the guy' as happily every after, but that is taste, (and I like chick lit better, because almost always, there is personal growth involved.

  5. i disagree. Plenty of male writers are derrided for their books. Dan Brown is probably the most common one. His writing is considered sub-par and his stories terrible, and the people who read them as dupes. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, just that it isn't quite so one-sided.

    It tends to be things that are hugely popular but crappy (American Idol for example, or daytime soaps) that get this treatment. The problem is the people who are fans feel belittled and defensive, so what if a boyband is manufactured by a record company and lipsync to songs written and sung by a computer, I like that song etc.

    Women happen to like stories where an average girl ends up with the handsomest richest dude (or maybe two). They like it A LOT. Men like looking at sexy girl A LOT. When you like something a lot you tend to lower your standards, but the people who aren't into it as much as you can see it for what it is, that's all. Shouldn't really make a difference, it's not like they're going to stop it being made.

    Moody Writing

  6. phd? impressive!
    i think it boils down to (watch out, generalization approaching) women tend to be more apologetic than men in general, and less confrontational...

    and now, Tag! You're it! Come over and see =)

  7. For my final project at university last year, I wrote a 'chick lit' piece and so did a lot of research into the for and against arguments. I readily admit that I used to feel guilty of enjoying reading this genre but now am empowered to know that I can read what I want without regard to what others think of it (besides, romance is the biggest selling genre so it's obviously doing something right).

    As far as mooderino's point, I disagree. I know that writers such as Dan Brown are derrided but think that that's more to do with the writing itself rather than the genre (though, in my opinion, if you're going to write something like he does, it would be a good idea to get the research right!) I mean, the same is said of J.K. Rowling - no one disregards the genre, it is the writing that is always pointed out. Even when 'chick lit' books are written extremely well, they are still derrided because they are chick lit (usually by people who either haven't read any chick lit or just got unlucky in their first choice).