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Gender Bias

Gender Biased Reading

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I admit that I prefer books written by women. I don’t really know why but if I stand in front two books, one written by a man and one by a woman, I’m picking up the book by the female author NO MATTER THE GENRE. When I buy kids books, though, I look at the content. Is it reverse sexism?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Laura K
    Oct 15, 2008 @ 22:20:56

    One thing I’ve noticed in discussing this with other readers is that I hear women say things like “I prefer books by women,” while men say “I never read books by women.” (This applies only to fiction, by the way.) When I look at my bookshelves, I can see that the vast majority of the books I read are by women. But I also read plenty of books by men. In a bookstore, I’d probably buy both, but I’d read the one by the woman first.

    The men who won’t read books by women I most frequently find in the mystery/thriller aisle. I don’t know why they feel this way, but it’s more than just a couple guys I’ve run across…there are a substantial number of them I’ve found in bookstores and on message boards.

  2. SonomaLass
    Oct 15, 2008 @ 22:50:39

    I read too much sci-fi and fantasy to be able to say I prefer women writers. I am a sucker for good world building, and there are some men who are just really good at that (Tolkein springs to mind). Not that there aren’t some excellent women writing in the field, but I love me my George R. R. Martin, my Guy Gavriel Kay, and lately my Brandon Sanderson. In sci-fi and fantasy, I find some strong differences between men and women as writers, but I find both appealing. I can’t really make that comparison with romance, of course.

    Now oddly, mystery is one genre where there are many writers of both genders to choose from, and I seem to prefer women. Honestly, I can’t remember the last mystery I read by a man. I’ll be giving that some thought — thanks, Jane, for getting me thinking, as usual.

  3. Graham Storrs
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 00:29:26

    SonomaLass, it’s hard not to have a bias when it comes to sci-fi – the male writers so far outnumber the female that it’s quite hard to find a woman writer to buy! Doesn’t stop me loving Sherri Tepper, Ursula Le Guin and C J Cherryh though — all of them excellent world-builders by the way.

  4. Marianne McA
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 03:03:58

    I don’t consciously consider the gender of the author before choosing a book.
    I would certainly buy more women authors, but I think that’s just because there are more female authors in the genres I like to read.
    Off-hand, I think the exception would be humour – I auto-buy authors like Pratchett, Fforde and Bryson because they make me laugh – I can’t think of a female equivalent.

  5. Ann Bruce
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 03:30:18

    I prefer books by women because, 90% of the time, female characters are the centre of the story for me.

    I started reading romances way back when and loved it, but thought I should expand my reading horizons. Hence, my foray into sci-fi in the 80s, which was written mainly by men. I got turned off the genre because I couldn’t take most of the women in those stories. Spineless, empty-headed, walking blow-up dolls. (Maybe I really sucked at picking sci-fi books. And, yes, I know there are women like that in the romance genre, but there are fewer of them.)

    In the 90s, when I decided to add mysteries to my bookshelf, the women improved, but I decided to stick solely to romance because I decided I should be reading books I love, not books I thought I should love.

    Then I stumbled upon JA Konrath and fell in love with his female protagonist. Smart, strong, and a wise-ass. (If you’re a Tami Hoag suspense fan, picture one of her female characters but with snark.) If more authors, male and female, write female characters like he does, my TBR wouldn’t be as diminished as it is now.

    I don’t read romances by men. Even with a pseudonym, I can tell when a romance is written by a man. There’s just something about the hero…he always seems to be very beta and more in touch with his feelings–and more willing to express them–than any guy I know in RL.

    Edited because it’s late. (And, cripes! I wrote a lot!)

  6. Kimber An
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 07:30:07

    I voted “no,” but the fact is most authors have a difficult time writing a believable character of the opposite sex. So, it depends on my mood. It’s always a wonderful thing when I discover an author who can write both genders well. Usually, it’s just one book on their booklist, but then they grow as writers. It’s interesting.

  7. Caty M
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 07:40:10

    I certainly don’t avoid male authors, and there are lots of books by men on my shelves – but I probably have two books by women for every book by a man. I don’t ever not buy a book because it’s by a man, or buy it because it’s by a woman. I choose based on content. Subjectively, though, I tend to find female writers’ work more appealing; I’ve thought about this but I can’t quantify why. Maybe a slight bias among female writers towards focus on personalities and among males towards events? Or is that horribly sexist and inaccurate? I shall have to think about this some more.

  8. Stephi
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 07:40:45

    Lately I’ve been reading books by men. I think I’ve been burned out by some of the romances lately. The last three I picked up were the same story with slightly different characters. Usually I don’t think about the gender of the author. This has just been a recent thing. On my last two trips to the bookstore, I started looking for male authors for a different edge in the story. It doesn’t seem to matter if I pick up a book called suspense or romantic suspense. It’s all the same story angle. Paranormal romances are becoming predictable. Even if it isn’t marked romance, the last few novels by women has focused significantly on a relationship with the same formula designs.

    It’s just me though. I’m sure I’ll start reading both again soon. I do find it funny how a bad run of books can alter my reading patterns.

  9. MoJo
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 08:26:00

    Depends on the genre. If I want romance, I have to choose a woman. If I want, well, anything else, I’ll go looking but most times it comes up male (no pun intended), though not on purpose.

    The fiction I like to read other than romance doesn’t have a genre, but almost all of it’s by men. I don’t read mystery, thrillers, or spy novels and I don’t think that what I choose qualifies as “literary,” although it’s really heavy reading.

    What *I* would like to read is a very long, dense (as in packed with “thinking”) romance that I know is a romance. Thing is, there are are really super-smart heavy-reading “thinking” romances out there, but between the blurb and the cover, how would you know? And if a man wrote it, it wouldn’t be in the romance section anyway, so how would you find it?

  10. BevQB
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 08:56:30

    I unashamedly proclaim my preference for a woman’s voice in books (except comedies, then it doesn’t matter).

    I’ve read studies that say that, when giving directions to an unfamiliar place, women prefer landmarks (i.e. when you get to Walgreen’s, the bakery is about a block up on the right, behind Burger King), while men prefer street names and distances (i.e. head down Main street for about 2/3 of a mile and make a right on Belmont Avenue).

    So what’s that got to do with my preference in books? I have found that women authors tend to include more specific descriptions which allow me to get a clearer picture of what the scenes and characters look like. I’m a “visual” reader. By that I mean I get a picture of the scenes and characters in my head as if I were in a corner of the room they are in, or I’m behind the characters’ eyes looking out.

    Whereas male authors (and I’m generalizing based on my experiences only) tend to concentrate on the actions of a scene or character and often use detailed descriptions quite sparingly. Or maybe I should say that they tend to not give the TYPE of descriptions that allow me to get a clear picture in my head. While I HAVE enjoyed stories written by men, it’s only when the book is good enough that I can sit back and just enjoy it at a sort of “face value”.

  11. veinglory
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 09:47:15

    I suspect many readers even of romance reader more make writers than is obvious at first glance–or at least those busy writing couples (given that they use female pen names). ;)

  12. veinglory
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 09:49:09

    p.s. I just read Gray Pleasures, the erotic romance with protags in the 70s. I would challenge anything to say it met those ‘man-writing’ stereotypes. I think that saying men don’t (ever?) writing in the style many woman want is a bit like saying girls are bad at maths. There may be an average gender difference but the overlap means it shouldn’t be used prejudicially.

    Men who choose to write romance can so it–just as when I choose to write for gay male magazines I can meet their requirements.

  13. GrowlyCub
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 10:07:53

    I read almost exclusively romance and the few times I’ve read romance written by men (without knowing) I felt the books were lacking somehow that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

    For SF, I read again mostly women (Bujold, Asaro) or couples (Lee/Miller); all authors who concentrate on the relationships rather than the outside trappings (even though they do well at the world-building).

    I’m currently in the process of re-cataloging and re-shelving my book collection (over 2,000) and the number of male writers is vanishingly small (and some of those are only still in there because I don’t get rid of books, so the Nicholas Sparks and Evan Maxwell that snuck their depressing stories in really don’t count. :)

    I don’t know if that is because of gender bias or not. I just like a certain type of story treatment and that just doesn’t seem to be something men are interested in writing.

  14. KMont
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 10:25:20

    I read a few different genres and noticed my lack of male authors on my shelves a long time ago. I don’t really know how to explain it, but in very basic terms, most books written by men that I’d read came across as boring to me. I did pick up a couple of male authors’ books this year for the TBR pile though, so I still hope to find some that will appeal to me. But yes, for the most part, ones I’ve read in the past, their styles were either boring, monotonous or seemed to just lack what I was unconsciously looking for at that time.

    Obviously, that has affected my tendency to gravitate more towards female authors, which I do regret. Surely I am missing some really great books by doing so. It’s not intentional, I don’t see a male name on a cover and immediately nix that choice.

    I think Neil Gaiman’s Stardust was the last book I read by a man and that was earlier this year I believe. I picked up his Neverwhere after that. His style, so far, is definitely not boring.

  15. Mrs Giggles
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 10:40:32

    When it comes to stories about relationship, I prefer female authors’ efforts.

    When it comes to action-heavy stories, I prefer male authors’ efforts. No male urban fantasy author I’ve come across has stories where the heroine’s great destiny is to be impregnated with magic babies by the alpha werewolf vampire alien hero. (If you know of any male authors who write stories like this, don’t tell me, please.)

    Vast generalization, of course, but that’s my personal experience with authors of both sexes.

  16. Kerry Blaisdell
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 11:15:37

    Interesting discussion, as always! In all honesty, I don’t *seek out* books by women. Some of my favorite authors — Tolkien, Guy Gavriel Kay, Robert Jordan — are men. However, I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, which is obviously dominated by female authors. But the mysteries I gravitate toward tend to have female authors, too, such as Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, and my favorite old standby, Ellis Peters. So I wouldn’t say I diss male authors per se, but my buying habits do show I trend toward women instead.

    Oh, but I should mention that I *love* the romances Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer cowrote, precisely because I love getting the male character’s POV *from a male author.* So maybe I have less of a bias and more of a genre preference. :?)

  17. Ann Bruce
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 11:31:44

    Oh, when I pick up comic books, I usually prefer male authors. I read the Wonder Woman story arc written by Jodi Picoult…and it left me unsatisfied.

  18. Meljean
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 12:27:37

    Jodi Picoult’s arc was not good storytelling or characterization (but, to be fair, she might have been hamstringed hamstrung by DC crossovers, which didn’t let her wrap up her story in a satisfying way). Gail Simone, on the other hand, is kicking ass on WW’s book now. IMHO :-D

  19. Ann Bruce
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 12:36:49

    Thanks, Meljean. I will have to check out Simone’s contribution.

  20. Michele Lee
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 13:41:46

    I read too many different genres and run into too many bad and good books to have a preference. I cannot say that I’ve noticed that men and women write different. Even right now I’m reading Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year volume 2 from Night Shade Books and I see male and female writers both capable of the same level of writing. Women (like Ilona Andrews) can write action just as well as David Morell, and women (like Kelly Link and Elizabeth Bear and Nancy Kress) are capable of writing intelligent plots every bit as good as Michael Crichton and Issac Asimov. Likewise men are capable of writing very human characters, even love stories (ie Neil Gaiman, and particularly Stephen Baxter’s “Last Contact” from the above mentioned book, which is the story of the end of the world, via black hole, told through conversations between mother and daughter scientists. It’s beautiful and emotional and one of the saddest stories I’ve read all year because of the power and realism of the characters.)

    I find it very had to prefer one gender over another, just like I can’t commit to a single genre.

  21. MaryK
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 14:00:43

    I prefer books written by women, but I don’t consider that to be biased. (I’m assuming you’re using “bias” in its prejudice sense.) It’s a personal style preference. If I prefer Coke over Pepsi, am I being unfair to Pepsi?

    In a blind test, I can usually tell the difference between male and female writing. I’m not sure why – something to do with emotional depth maybe. I read for character and relationships and generally women writers spend more time developing that aspect. I’ve no philosophical objection to male writers, but the fact is they don’t generally do it for me. I’ve come across a few that I’ve liked and there are more I intend to try, but I’m not going to read writing I don’t care for just to even out my male/female reading statistics.

  22. AndreaS
    Oct 16, 2008 @ 14:04:12

    I don’t think I ever conciously buy or do not buy a book based on author gender. Trying to think… most of the books I’ve been reading recently are by women. But I’ve been glomming romance heavily and so there’s that genre thing.
    When I read sci-fi, all my favorite authors are men. I don’t know if I’ve read very many women authors. Although I know there are some on my TBR pile.

    I don’t think it would occur to me to buy one book over another because of author gender. It hasn’t been an influence I’ve noticed very much so I’m not aware of it.

    All that said, now that I start to consider the matter… I may have a preference for some “female author” characteristics. I like my heroines badass and a well written relationship. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have cravings for a good Pratchett.
    And I absolutely loved “Neverwhere” Kmont.

  23. Emmy
    Oct 17, 2008 @ 13:54:59

    I read mostly sci-fi, fantasy, and romance.

    With sci-fi and fantasy, I have no gender preference. I have books on my keeper shelf by both males and females, and love them equally.

    With romance, I prefer my het written by females and my gay romance by males. Authors, of course, realize that, because there are males writing het romance under female pseuds, and many many female authors of gay romance with male pseuds. If there was no perception of gender bias, why pick a pseud of the opposite gender?

  24. Lauren Bethany
    Oct 19, 2008 @ 12:21:32

    I prefer female writers. I’ve found men’s styles to be very basic, just the facts while female writers focus more on the sensory and emotional in their writing. As someone who is very artisitcally minded, I much prefer having this extra layer in the writing.

    This isn’t to say I can’t enjoy a book by a male author. I do read some, but if you ask me my favorite authors (I can’t choose one, I have a list of a dozen) they will all be female. If you look on my bookshelves, less than 1% of the books will be by a man, and those will are most often non-ficton.

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