Gender-Based Book Classifications: Still Relevant?
September 7, 2014
When I was working with an agent on my first book, Fall Eagle One, the agent called my action/adventure novel, “a boy book.” After publication, one of my biggest surprises was the large number of women readers who really like the book. I never envisioned that a World War 2 story about German aviators flying to the U.S. to kill President Roosevelt would find a following among women. I should have known better. With stereotypes about the respective roles of men and women rapidly evolving from those that existed in my youth, I should have anticipated that the barriers between gender-based book classifications would also begin to blur.
My own reading experience should have alerted me. Prior to becoming an Indie author at 75, I was a voracious reader, plowing through four-six books a week. Once I discovered that I liked a writer, I would read every book in the library that he had written. After finishing all of Jonathan Kellerman’s police thrillers, I read one by his wife, Faye Kellerman, on a whim. I found myself enthralled. Ms. Kellerman writes excellent police fiction. With my eyes finally opened, I began reading other women crime thriller authors as well. They were all great reads. Women write action/adventure that stacks up very well against that by male authors. But do women like to read action/adventure? My experience with both of my published novels leads me to believe that they do.
I believe that the days when men wrote books for men to read and women wrote books for only women are becoming a phenomenon of the past. Consider the genre of erotica, once the exclusive purview of men, both as authors and consumers. Then, when Rosemary Rogers published her novel, The Insiders, in the 1970s, a Time Magazine reviewer proclaimed that she had invented a new genre: pornography for women. Fast forward to the 2010s. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James took the publishing world by storm. Most reports suggest that the majority of Ms. James’s readers are also women, but I’ll bet that a lot are men. It would be interesting to sample the audiences of the upcoming movie.
Books written for children can also become wildly popular with adults. Look at the runaway success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Ms. Rowling clearly enchanted boys, girls, men, and women. As Bob Dylan wrote, “The times, they are a changing.”
Stereotyped gender roles are fast fading from Western society, and I think this to be a good thing. I believe strongly in individual freedom. The old “one-size-fits-all” way of viewing human relationships is no longer acceptable to emerging Western generations. I would not want any of the women in my life, whatever their age, to be forced into a gender-role straight jacket.