By PD Martin
Okay, the title of my post might already have some people getting ready to click off. And some of you may be dying to read the rest. But, I’m not about to go off on a feminist rant…well, not exactly. I’m going to present some fascinating facts and ask some questions. That’s it! I’ve even got a cool poll embedded in this post asking if you have a preference for male or female authors or male or female protagonists.
If you read my last post, you know that earlier this month I took part in SheKilda, a crime convention set up by Sisters in Crime Australia. I compared it to Bouchercon with one key difference – all the authors/panelists were women.
This key difference sparked a few very interesting blogs both pre- and post- SheKilda. It started a few days before the convention, when The Crime Factory’s Andrew Nette looked at the current state of play for female crime writers in Australia and PM Newton also wrote a fascinating blog on the subject, including looking at the VIDA stats that were released in the US earlier this year.
Then things really hotted up post-SheKilda, when Australia’s best-selling female crime writer and ex-model Tara Moss blogged about SheKilda and gender inequity. The blog was interesting, informative and well-written but it was when one of Melbourne’s book reviewers got on and commented that her blog was “privileged whining” that things really hotted up! As you can imagine. You can check out the blog and comments.
So, I wanted to present some of the facts from these blogs in a combined format and to a wider audience – the wonderful Murderati authors and readers. But most importantly, I want to ask WHY? But onto the why in a second.
Australia’s Ned Kelly Awards for crime fiction and true crime have been running for 16 years. During that time, only one woman has won the ‘top prize’ of best fiction book. In fact, it was this gender inequity that lead Sisters in Crime Australia to establish the Davitt awards in 2001. The 2011 winners were in my last post.
Then there’s our Miles Franklin Award (which is actually named after a woman, Stella, who often wrote under the name Miles Franklin). Since 1957, the award has been given to a woman only 13 times, and a woman has won two out of the last 10 awards. In fact, this year a group of women set up the Stella Prize to address this gender imbalance.
So now Australian female writers have the Davitt Awards and the Stella Prize.
PM Newton’s blog brought my attention to some US stats released by VIDA earlier this year. No doubt many of you saw them. Basically, they showed a major inequity in terms of the gender of book reviewers and authors reviewed. It seems it’s easier to get your book reviewed if you’re a male author.
VIDA lists examples from different publications. The New York Times Book Review section was the most gender neutral, with 35% of the books reviewed written by women. The fact that this stat was the BEST shows you how bad it is. For the New Yorker, the 2010 stats were that 20% of the books reviewed were written by women.
When these US stats came out, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) interviewed literary editors from The Australian, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald and a quick tally showed a gender bias towards reviewing male authors. For the interview, The Age’s Jason Steger checked “the last couple of weeks” and found 15 of the books reviewed were written by women, versus 23 by men (that’s 39% female authors). This was despite the fact that the gender break-down of book releases is actually 50/50.
Now, while I wanted to present the above information to put this post in context, my main question is why? Are males simply writing better books, more worthy of awards and reviews? Publishers and agents will tell you that men prefer reading male authors. In fact, I emailed my publisher to say I liked the ring of ‘PD Martin’ and the fact that it would fit on one line…she was thrilled because she said ‘Lots of guys won’t pick up books written by women.’
But I often wonder if it’s more about the protagonist. So, let’s get some stats of our own together…
Note: Please make sure you respond to only TWO questions (i.e. females use the first two polls/questions for your responses, males the second two questions).
The results should show and update automatically once the votes start coming in. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of my little poll but please also comment below 🙂 And feel free to share the poll. But one final point first…had to do it…
Are you loving my poll?
Male-Aussie-Thriller-writer-without-awards-on-mantle here. 🙂 Do you have the stats on male to female judges on said awards? Or, the gender balance of public voters? That (in my humble opinion) may provide some answers to your question/s.
Maybe we could compare the number of reviews in Aus for your books compared to mine 🙂 My point here is that you are a great writer and readers via any means (word of mouth or reviews) will spread the joy for you just as they will for me if thet enjoy our books.
So, by setting up the Davitt awards and Stella prize an answer to gender bias per se? Now every other award in Aus is open to male and females, except these two which are exclusive to females? Would it be acceptable if someone started a male only award for best fiction in Aus? I'm rather sheepish to admit that I don't follow this 'award stuff' because a quick email or conversation with a reader who compliments my books is about all I need.
If Sisters In Crime allowed men to join – I'd be the first in line!
Yes, I am loving this, and I'm hoping you get lots of responses.
I'm very interested in your topic, something I've thought about quite a lot, actually. Although I wasn't in gender studies, my doctoral advisor was Carol Gilligan (In a Different Voice). I have no idea why she selected me, and it was not a good match. Everything I did while I was with her was touched by gender issues, while I was more interested in cultural stuff.
It wasn't that I had no interest in gender issues. I had – still have – tons, but the depth of my interest was, and still is, just practical. I care very much that I and others even consider the possiblities of revealing or disguising our gender in print.
My question as a reader/writer is to what extent, if it is true that most readers of mystery novels are women, does a gender-neutral name influence sales to men?
Great poll! The results are interesting, so far, though I expect Murderatis are slightly more . . . enlightened than the whole of the reading public?
I'd like to know the answer to Reine's last question, too, if there is an answer.
Do cozies sell better if a woman writes them? Are men the go-to gender for noir?
And why do these assumptions come so readily to my mind?
JJ, our Sisters in Crime chapter has male members. Go for it!
It never made a difference to me before; I've always been what I refer to as an "omnivorous" reader, reading anything and everything I could get my hands on: fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, classics, you name it. However, now that my daughters are all grown and living their own lives, I simply cannot read books in which women are placed in horrendous jeopardy. It freaks me out too much. And it seems as though most, although certainly not all, that type of book is written by male authors. Robert Parker and Dick Francis were notable exceptions. But they have both passed on to the great writing room in the sky.
Now I find myself preferring, almost by default, cozy mysteries, simply because there are no dismemberments or other yucky/creepy/nightmare-inducing incidents. Suspense is good (love Tess's books, for instance), but not at the expense of my sleep. And it does seem as though cozies are more often written by women. In fact, I can only think of a couple series, those written by Andrew Smith McCall and Collin Cotterill, that fit that bill.
I'd never given any thought to this issue until I began reading blogs on the subject. Then I looked at the books on my shelf. And there they are. Books by women. Lots of them. When I pick up a book, the only thing I bother about is whether I think I'll enjoy the story. It doesn't matter a bit whether the protag. is male or female. It's always story, first and last.
I can't understand men who won't read a crime novel simply because it's written by a woman. It's ridiculous. And their loss. I suspect, though, that these men are a (stupid) minority among men who read the genre. Maybe these guys think: "Oh – a woman wrote this… So no action, no suspense, no mystery." How crazy is that?
Karen in Ohio makes a good point. Women in jeopardy. I'd also add children in jeopardy. The latter, I will not read. The former, though? Sometimes it can feel like cheap exploitation and I won't finish the book. But in a crime novel somebody has to be in jeopardy.
I like to think of it as a common mindset that is (to me, at least) visible in the writing. An aggressive mindset. And it doesn't have to be the protagonist's it can be an alternate character/sidekick like Hawk, Bubba Rogowski, Jane Rizzoli, or Amelia Sachs. And I don't think it's as simple as Noir vs. Cozy, because I've read some "noir" books that seemed as breakneck and/or threatening as a newborn kitten. So I've never cared whether it was written by a man or woman so much as the writing style.
For example, I've read books by Michelle Gagnon, Lori Armstrong, and our own Toni, JT, Tess, and Zoe, that had some real aggression in the writing. Loved it. I've also read books by men like Reginald Hill and Dick Francis where I didn't get the same feel. They were still good books, but they weren't the kind that I would gush over.
I will say that I've never STOPPED reading a book because the writing was or wasn't masculine, however. In fact, I hate to stop reading a book at all. Even a dreadful one. Hate. It. I can only count 4 books in my life I didn't finish once I started them. One was a King book, because it bored me to tears. One was Alex's first book because I was having trouble sleeping when my imagination kept bringing up shit I'd read about earlier while I was lying in bed. And the other two were novels that were so obviously preaching politics that I wanted to scream. And the funny thing is, one of those two was preaching politics I AGREED WITH. But damn, that doesn't mean I want it to invade my stories. It's one of the reasons movies like Wall-E and Avatar drive me insane. Whether I agree with your visions of what man is going to do to this world because of consumerism or not, don't ram it down my throat when I'm just trying to escape into a good story. (And yes, men and women have injected too much politicking into their works, so you can't really draw the line there, either. Well, you could if you wanted, but I couldn't. Can't. Whatever.)
Yea, I voted in the majority!
Great questions Mr. Martin. I mean, Miss Martin. Or Mrs. Or Ms. Geez, you know, I really can't tell your true gender, with that P.D. thing going on. (Dr. Martin?)
I don't care who writes it or who he/she writes about, so long as the writing is fucking good.
Very interesting post. I have a tough time understanding how books are judged by anything other than the quality of the writing – it just baffles me that anyone cares what gender a writer is. I know they do, though, and it's a bummer.
For a different take on "It's a Man's World", take a look at this YouTube clip of Christina Aguilera at the Grammys a few years back. Brown's version was a proclamation, hers is a lament, and it's something to see.
I'm an either/don't care female – the story just has to be good (by my taste). However, growing up I was kind of dismayed to find that I identified more with male protags like James Bond, Philip Marlowe, etc. (were there good female ones a few decades ago?) and loathed the Nancy Drew books (still do!). Oh well – now there are plentiful female protags that capture me.
I'm not surprised that this gender inequality is global rather than a US phenomenon among many readers and reviewers.
And it makes me sad for the readers who close off so much good writing.
Interesting poll. My favorite authors are about even in the question of male vs, female writers. One question on your poll surprised me and that is the question of the gender of the protag. Though I am a woman, I am more likely to become deeply involved in a fiction if the protag is male (or sometimes if the protag is a female who is a bit rough and tumble and yet still 'real – like Jane Rizzoli, Anna Pigeon and Kinsey Millhone'). I do understand my own preference for the male protag, though. I write fiction and most of my best protags are male because that is how I get enough 'distance' to tell the story instead of constantly interfering in what the characters are doing and thus blocking off some of the story. And so… I can't help but identify when I read a male protag who is like one I might write myself. I wonder if any other writers share this sort of thing.
I do think, as Sarah W mentioned, that the men who read this blog are probably more enlightened. I believe that out there in the real world, your average male reader doesn't tend to read female authors as much as women read male authors. There's a valid reason why many female authors use gender-neutral initials. The male brain and the female brain are different — it's a fact of our species — hormones anyone? They run the show despite what we'd like to think with our rational minds.
In western civilization being a white male, whatever career you choose, makes things easier. Hard to neutralize millienia's worth of human social development in a few generations.
Hah, I don't have to comment because Lisa just said EXACTLY what I would have said. Kind of as usual, actually. Thanks, Lisa!
Love the poll!!
In most households, women are the bookbuyers. Even for their male significant other. Women will pick up any interesting looking book and maybe buy it. Most men will not pick up a book written by a female. It might have touchy-feeley feelings in it. (that is what my husband says anyway.)
Accidentally helpful, that's me! 🙂
Just out of bed and at the computer….here's starting with my responses to such great comments!
JJ – As one award-less author to another 🙂 I understand where you're coming from. Certainly the VIDA stats found a similar percentage in the ratio of male to female reviewers and male to female author reviews. But this would still mean that males (reviewers and judges) are more likely to pick up or be interested in a book written by men. In terms for the Ned Kellys and the Miles Franklin award, I have to confess I don't know what the gender make-up usually is. But I'm going to check it out today!
And yes, I agree…emails from readers are wonderful.
And I also do see your point that perhaps the Stella Prize and Davitts are reverse sexism. But I think they were created because while the 'mainstream' awards were open to all, in reality the gender balance wasn't happening. I believe the Miles Franklin award didn't even have females in the short list the last two years!
My daughter's just woken up and needs breakfast…I'll be back soon 🙂
Looks like I'm in good company with the majority of us voting either/or. I would hate to miss out on a good read by narrowing my options on the basis of gender.
Great thought-provoking post!
Nice post, Phillipa. I think this crowd all needs Real Men Read Women gear. Profits go to youth literacy.
Reine – glad you're enjoying the poll! And interesting how you 'fell' into gender studies 🙂 Yes, for mysteries most of the readers are female, but I think the gender becomes more important if publishers are marketing the book as a crime thriller. I think thrillers and crime thrillers have a higher percentage of male readers. Plus publishers seem to believe that women don't care about the gender of the author while men do – so may as well capture as big a piece of the pie as you can!
Sarah – glad you're enjoying the poll too! And yes, maybe the sample is a little enlightened. Although I have been sharing the poll on Facebook and Twitter and telling people they don't have to read the post but to come and vote! Feel free to spread the word too and we can see if the stats change. I don't have any answers to your questions, I'm afraid. I'm not sure if research has been done on the sub-genres of crime — although both your examples do seem 'intuitive' to me too. But maybe we're wrong 🙂
Okay, I'm back. Breakfast and lunches made, daughter in pre-school. Time to get into my responses and then start writing 🙂
Karen in Ohio: omnivorous reader – what a great expression! Love it. Books that place women in jeopardy is a tough one for the crime genre, which often features female victims. Still, it can be a nice balance to have a female victim and then a female protagonist who finds justice for the victim. Having a young daugther, for me at the moment it's stories that have children in jeopardy that I struggle with. Although I'm always more affected and disturbed my real-life/true crime stories. In fiction, I know it's made up but in true crime, I know it really happened.
Must admit, I'm more into the forensics, detailed stuff. Very different reading to the cozy mysteries. But isn't it great that there's so much variety within "crime"!?
Richard: First off, go Richard! Great to hear your bookshelf is dominated by female authors. Then again, I'm biased. The Murderati men might have a few words to say on it too. I've also heard that some men are 'embarased' to read female authors (like on the train)…bizarre, huh?
And as you'll see from my response to Karen, I find children in jeopardy very hard too. But it's a good point you make…in crime SOMEONE has to be in jeopardy.
Jake: Aggression…interesting. So maybe it's about testosterone and female authors channelling that?
Glad to hear your bookshelf mixes it up too 🙂 And I'm with you on finishing books. I pretty much always finish. One of the only books I didn't finish was American Psycho. I just couldn't cope with all the obsessive descriptions after a while! Even though that was part of the character.
And I also agree about politics in books. A line or two that's relevant to the character or plot – yes – but no high horses or preaching.
Stephen: It's Ms Martin to you! Although my dad is Dr Martin…scientist doctor though, not MD.
Rae: Yes, in some ways I was reticient to post this, and bring it up. In that it gender shouldn't matter! But I've always wondered (as I said in the post) if it's really more about the protagonist. I'm happy to read male or female authors, male or female protagonists, but I have to confess, I do love a kick-ass heroine.
Loved Christina Aguilera's cover too. Got some aggression in it too…check it out everyone, if you haven't already 🙂
MJ: I liked James Bond AND Nancy Drew. Yes, there are lots of great male and female protagonists out there. Enough for everyone 🙂
Louise: Yes, I'm afraid it is global. In fact, I've known a few Americans who find Australia incredibly sexist (more sexist than the US). But I think to really know that you have to live in both countries, work in both countries. Anyway…
Lynn: Glad you liked the poll. My 'theory' was that males prefer male protagonists and women female protagonists. As I said in an earlier response, I like both but often 'crave' a good kick-ass heroine. Maybe that's the 'rough and tumble' you refer to! Mind you, my main protagonist is also a woman, so maybe I'm identifying with what I write.
Lisa: Yes, male and female brains are very different. Even in the number of synapses and the way we make decisions. I've been researching this for a ghost writing project I've got on the go. Fascinating stuff. Maybe I should do a follow-up post about that!
Alex: Thanks! And yes, Lisa did say it well 🙂
Jill: Yes, God forbid a book with 'touchy-feeley' things in it! Women do buy more books. And the number of couples I know where the woman reads fiction and the male non-fiction…lots!
I'm almost caught up! Every fortnight when I post the time difference really annoys the *** out of me. Anyway….
Lynn from Texas: Glad you liked the post and that you don't let yourself miss out on a good read!
Alex: Thanks! Great slogan and a great 'cause'.
Please note that it's not "women in jeopardy", per se. It's women in extreme, gut-wrenching, horrifying, psycho peril of being dismembered, skinned alive, or otherwise tortured that gets to me. I had to stop reading the Scarpetta series because I just could not stomach the crimes she dreamed up for her criminals. Ick, ick.
Suspense is good; heart-pounding fear is okay. I've just gotten squeamish and wimpy about truly disgusting fictional crimes. It's bad enough such things exist in real life, ya know?
Thanks for the clarification, Karen! Some crime fiction does take it too far…
Another wonderful share. I like it how you ended this with a poll question. I'm quite shocked with the results but I must say it is really effective.
Fascinating day today, PD – I'm not surprised by the results. I'm back on the suspense instead of graphic crime books myself. Just cant take the really scary stuff any more.
Yes, I like the poll idea and I love the article.
As a single Dad with three young ones – I understand the juggling, Phillipa! 🙂
Good writing trupms all i suppose – my favourite author is the brilliant Lisa Unger (Alafair can confirm that :)) I pick up books for 1. price – 2. recommendations from friends or online – 3. back cover blurb – 4. POV of book and 5. (there is no five – don't care about awards or 'paper' reviews'.
Please let me know when I can enter the Stella Prize and Davitts! (I'm being cheeky).
Sorry, delayed response to the last few comments…
Kirby – Glad you liked the poll. I'm keeping it open and will talk about the results in my next post – in a fortnight's time 🙂
JT – It's nice to shift things around and change what we write. All part of a writer's evolution, I guess!
Shirley – glad you liked the poll too!
JJ – wow, that is tough! I'm mother to one, married, and I find it tough to juggle things!!! Interesting that you pick up books based on POV – as in 1st person/3rd person you mean? Which do you prefer?
And I'll definitely let you know if the Davitts or Stellas open up for men too 🙂