Women love books. We always have, probably always will. Of all the books that are currently bought and read, we do most of the buying and the reading. It's a fact: we are the reading sex.
We are the writing sex too. Our foremothers, like Jane Austen and the Brontës, wrote novels which would be read by millions and live on for centuries. Today, books by JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, and Stephanie Meyer prop up the publishing industry. Women are prolific writers and we are the all time bestsellers.
Yet, in spite of this, our books are often ridiculed, demeaned, or ignored.
"America is now given over to a damned mob of scribbling women," wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in the mid-nineteenth century just at the moment when many women like Austen had taken up their quills and were writing novels (and were finding big hungry audiences for their work).
Not much has changed since Hawthorne. Although Austen and the Brontës now get their due, women's fiction today still struggles to be taken seriously. Romance novels continually get stereotyped as "soft porn for desperate housewives." Chick lit has been dismissed by the literati as throwaway "fluff" obsessed with shopping and shoes. And even women writers like Jodi Picoult who tackle more serious issues are often labeled "hysterical" and "melodramatic" by reviewers. The book reviewing world even criticizes books for "pandering to female audiences," as if that is such a terrible thing (yes, Publisher's Weekly said this about the short story collection, This is Chick Lit).
Best-selling author Jennifer Weiner pointed out this week that the same thing is happening with women's memoirs. Weiner (who's often talked about the gender bias amongst the reviewing establishment) recently read a handful of memoirs by men - including David Denby's American Sucker and David Carr's Night of the Gun. She then looked at the praise some of these memoirs received in the New York Times and compared them to the reviews given to similar books by women (namely Katha Pollitt's Learning to Drive and Elizabeth Hayt's I'm No Saint).
Here's Weiner's conclusion:
"If you're a dude and you write about, say, smoking pot with your prepubescent son, scoring coke with your daughters asleep in your car, or spewing uncontrollable diabetes-related diarrhea all over your son's back seat, well then you, sir, have written 'a bruising survival story,' or a 'brave, heartfelt, often funny, often frustrating book.'
If you're a chick who sleeps around and lives to tell (and sell) the tale, you're greedy, vain and charmless. If you're a guy who spends nights on end looking at Internet porn and days investing in drug companies that overcharge cancer patients for their cures, then you're 'formidably smart.'"
It seems whichever way we women scribble, we continue to be damned.