By PD Martin
A fortnight ago I looked at some gender stats when it came to Aussie awards and book reviews in the US and Aussie media. And then I posed two questions:
- Do you prefer reading male or female authors (or don’t care)?
- Do you prefer reading about a male or female protagonist (or don’t care)?
It’s often suggested that men don’t like reading books by female authors, and I wondered if it was more about the protagonist than the gender of the actual author. Is it easier for a reader to identify with a protagonist if they’re the same gender? I like reading both genders (authors and protagonists) but if push came to shove and I was choosing between two books that appeared ‘equal’ in other respects, I’d probably choose the book with a female heroine. But that’s just me…let’s check out the overall results…
Of 54 votes, 77.78% don’t care if the author is male or female, 12.96% prefer male authors and 9.26% prefer female authors.
Of 51 votes, 74.51% don’t care if the protagonist is male of female, 19.61% prefer reading about male protagonists, and 5.88% prefer reading books with female protagonists.
Of the 162 voters, 76.54% don’t care if the author is male or female, 20.99% prefer reading females and 2.47% prefer reading books written by men.
Of the 157 voters, 72.61% don’t care if the protagonist is male or female, 22.93% prefer reading stories with a female protagonist, and 4.46% prefer reading male protagonists.
As you can see, the results are actually pretty similar for the males and females who voted in my poll. Although, it’s actually the females who are more ‘sexist’ when it comes to the gender of the authors, with 20.99% preferring female authors versus 12.96% of males preferring male authors.
When it comes to the protagonists, the stats are even more equivalent between men and women. So there goes my theory out the window!!!
You’ll notice we had a lot more females voting (three times as many) than men, but that’s probably in line with the fact that more females read crime fiction (and therefore probably this blog).
Differences in male and female brains
I guess gender differences have always interested me, but they’ve been especially on my radar recently because I’ve been helping out a colleague who’s working on a non-fiction book – and it includes some fascinating info on gender differences.
One study the author found looked at risk. It was a 1999 study published in the Psychological Bulletin, by James Byrnes, David Miller and William Schafer, and it looked at general risk-taking differences between men and women. The study found that men took more risks even if it was quite obviously a bad idea, whereas women avoided risks, even when it was clearly beneficial. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages of both attitudes towards risk.
So could attitude towards risk relate to how authors write male and female protagonists? Are male protagonists more likely to take risks, which draw the readers in and add to a novel’s excitement? Risk, certainly in thriller novels, is an essential element of creating an edge-of-the-seat experience for readers. Having said that, while protagonists do have to take some risks, they also have to be believable. So are risks taken by male characters generally more believable, perhaps because we know at some level that it’s less likely for a woman to take risks. To charge off after the bad guy. To walk down that dark alley to see if she really did hear someone scream? Is that cool risky behaviour, or stupidity if it’s a woman doing it?
Given my poll showed that most of the Murderati readers like reading both male and female authors and characters, maybe gender differences and risk simply aren’t in the equation for you. I’m kind of going off on a tangent, but this research has got me thinking that maybe risk is another spin to the age-old claim that men prefer reading male authors…do they simply like reading about males taking risks? For me, personally, I don’t think risk-taking attitudes come into it, because I love reading about a kick-ass female character who’s going to jump off buildings and get invovled in shoot-outs to get the bad guy.
What about you? Have you ever thought about a character’s risk-taking activities, believability and gender?
PS I think this is a fairly analytical and intense post for me…bloody David Corbett must be rubbing off on me. And I don’t even follow him in the Murderati line-up any more.