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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

April A-Z: Gender? Genre?

I've seen a few discussions online recently about the genre designation of women's writing.
The arguments go as follows:

  • Men are described as writing 'novels' while women are defined as writing 'chick lit' or 'hen lit' or 'mum lit'.
  • This is yet another example of women being defined by their reproductive function.

Although I would define myself as feminist, I'm not sure I can support this argument. I do agree that women are frequently defined by their sexual or reproductive function, but I'm not sure that's the complete story here. I have two main points to make here:

  1. 'Chick', 'hen' and 'mum' lit are genres, not merely books written by - or for - women of particular ages/types. There are therefore female authors writing 'novels'; I would not expect to see Angela Carter, Joanne Harris or Kate Mosse under 'chick', 'hen' or 'mum' lit.
  2. Equally, there are male authors defined by the genres they write in, e.g. as crime writers, sci fi writers or even writing 'lad lit'. Admittedly, there are fewer genres which are so gendered for male writers (lad lit is all I can think of), but there are also genres which are seen as more masculine such as westerns and military adventure.  

Overall, I would probably argue that this is more a case of anti-genre snobbery than a gender thing. I suppose if I were writing books designated as 'mum lit' for example, I might resent being written off as frivolous (as, of course, only literary fiction is serious ;-)). The gendered nature of that genre might feel like the worst aspect of it, but of course crime writers, thriller writers, sci-fi writers etc all face similar pigeonholing. And just try asking a children's writer when they're going to 'move on' to writing for adults!

So, what do you think? Gender or genre?


  1. There is a lot of pigeon holing and assumptions out there. People seem to think just about every niche is frivilous if it isn't their niche.

  2. Do people still make that argument? hmmm I've never heard gender issues much except some men have a hard time getting into the romance genre without pen names. For me, I know some people have said that female writers can't write m/m realistically but I already know from my fans (who are gay/bi males) that I do it just fine. Might use a gender neutral name if I publish them. I've never read western books. Might have to think about this more.

    Dawn's Writing Blog


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