“Shunning” Books by Women? What FB Users Said


Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post based in part on findings of research done by Nielsen Book Research. As you may know, the Nielsen organization is “a leading global data and analytics company that provides a holistic and objective understanding of the media industry.” This particular research was for a new book by MA Sieghart, titled The Authority Gap (reviewed here), which explores the social conditioning and unconscious bias that belittles and undermines women. Half the population is a lot of people to not take seriously.

The author investigated the many guises in which bias occurs, but of most interest to me were her findings on how authors are treated. Much past research has dealt with women authors’ difficulties, which culminate in reduced readership. Using the Nielsen research and other sources, Sieghart found considerable evidence that these difficulties continue and that men “shun” books by women. I actually think this may be less prevalent in the crime and mystery genre, but the research was dealt with best-selling authors, all genres.

I’m gratified that my post it received abundant Facebook likes from both men and women. But in the comments, sharp differences emerged. In general, women cited specific experiences they’d had; many men denied the problem and questioned the data.

Several women (teachers) said prejudices against women authors begin at an early age, and others said they identify themselves with initials, not their names, as a result. One woman said, “A while back, a large writers’ group I belong to researched this from several angles, and concluded that in most genres, male authors significantly outsold female. Possibly the roughest moment was a friend’s husband admitting to his writer wife that he too avoided books by women because he assumed they wouldn’t interest him.” That “he assumed” is what author Sieghart is trying to get at.

Some men said they don’t pay any attention to the author’s gender. I hope that’s true. But if all that interests them are stories about former Navy SEALS with advanced martial arts skills who like to blow things up, following their preferences will naturally lead to one type of author. One said he didn’t know any women who write the action thrillers he prefers (a woman author responded by suggesting one of her books). Sieghart’s point is that readers who read books by only one gender (however that happens) miss out on understanding a lot of what goes on in the world.

Apparently, several men didn’t bother to read my post, much less The Guardian article it was based on, both of which described the research. One skeptical man asked, “Is this based on any factual research?” Similarly, men wrote, “I don’t take much stock in people’s surveys or stats,” and “I think these surveys/polls are utter nonsense.” The Nielsen research wasn’t a poll; it was an analysis of actual buying patterns.

Mysteriously, one man said he didn’t see that the problem is about gender. “Most crime fiction is written by women, so are you suggesting men don’t read crime? They certainly do.” No, the post did not suggest anything like that at all.

The ad feminem argument also surfaced: “One issue is that society conditions men to expect female authors to spend most of the time excoriating men. So why bother?”

And, this clincher: “Who cares? Move on. Write because you love writing.” Not because you want to be read or because it’s important to you that your books bring in the income that will let you eat, put a roof over your head, and buy shoes for the kids.

Heartening, by contrast, was some men’s unqualified support for women authors, like: “There are way too many high quality female authors to ignore. Especially in the mystery genre.” And “I love English mysteries, and many of the best writers are women.”

3 thoughts on ““Shunning” Books by Women? What FB Users Said

  1. Victoria,

    Sorry I am late to this blog post.. After reading it I had a discussion with my wife, who might love books even more than I do. She certainly reads faster. Reflecting on your blog, we both found that, while we both occasionally read across gender, overwhelmingly, we tend to seek out works by our own. It doesn’t make sense to us because we both can name authors of opposite gender whom we enjoy. But the fact is we are more loyal to authors of our own gender. For example I really admire the work of Meg Gardener, but I do not own all of her books while I own just about every Walter Mosley and Joe R. Lansdale and Dennis Lehane book out there. She can name female authors that she’s done the same thing with. The question we are left with is why? My wife suggested there may be a gender preference because that a female may represent how she (my wife) as a reader would react to the situation perhaps a bit better, but I would respectfully point to Gardener as proof that that isn’t always the case. Meg writes great thrillers. Period. It is certainly a question both of us will ponder and discuss further. And for that I thank you.

  2. Wonderful edition of your blog today, Vicki. Can I use the URL to post it on my book group’s message page, and can I post it on my own Facebook page? I have friends, rabbits, and relations in both places who’d be fascinated by the topic and your comments.

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