Don’t get me wrong, I know of several individuals who claim they’re anxiously awaiting the momentous day that I deliver unto them a copy of my novel-in-progress’s final draft:
- Friends who have had to listen to my talk about my opus for far too long
- Former coworkers
- Select family members
(My mother, at this point, is only a “maybe”, but I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to either strong-arm or guilt-trip her into the task.)
But in terms of actual readers who are neither emotionally nor relationally obligated to me, I’m not really sure.
Particularly when it comes to actual male readers.
Our stories, ourselves
For a long time, I was preoccupied with the idea of getting men to read my book. It’s not even finished yet, but the idea that men might not want to read it caused me only slightly less anxiety than the fact that I only sorta know how the story’s going to end.
The current literary landscape is one often consisting of gendered book covers (q.v. YA author Maureen Johnson’s enlightening coverflip challenge), the pervasive (and socially perpetuated) notion that boys (and perhaps the men they grow up to become) won’t read books about female protagonists while girls/women will read anything, and the dismissal of genres typically enjoyed more so by women as trashy, maudlin, or otherwise irrelevant.
I thus thought that attracting male readers in spite of the various strikes that could be levelled against a book such as mine would mean my work was important – that it was serious and significant, and that consequently, I’d be considered a serious and significant writer.
And then I thought about this whole idea of women’s stories again.
A recent post at NPR’s blog discussed the number of women – or more appropriately, the lack thereof – in movies playing in theatre on a mid-June day this year.
According to the post, there were 617 showings of various movies at various times on that particular Friday in the Washington, DC area, and of that 617, 561 (91%) were movies about men or groups of men wherein women only played supporting roles.
An obvious reason for this wild discrepancy is that, despite the success of numerous female-centric movies in the past, few movies about women – let alone movies about women written and directed by women – are being produced today.
According to the (highly recommended!) Sundance documentary, Miss Representation, “the media has always been overwhelmingly in the hands of men”.
The film provides the statistic that women hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising, which is to say that “as you go up the ranks in media, fewer and fewer women and people of colour exist at every rung of the ladder”.
Or expressed yet another way, in what for me is the most profound quote in the entire movie, as stated by the Women’s Media Center Founding President, Carol Jenkins:
That means that 97% of everything you [women] know about yourself and about your country and your world comes from the male perspective.
In service to my sex
Admittedly, I’m writing a book, not a screenplay for a movie, and studies apparently claim that women comprise 80% of fiction readers in North America and Britain.
This may be because books are the only media bastion where one can easily find female protagonists, let alone female characters who are multi-dimensional and involved in situations that women find interesting and compelling.
I’ve thus decided to stop worrying about whether or not men read my book. Of course, I’d love it if they did – I’d love to share with men my fascination with the lives of women during the medieval times.
But, assuming anyone wants to read it at all, I’m now perfectly okay with it if it turns out only women are interested.
I have no problem with writing a novel that’s for us and by one of us, for not enough of our stories are being told across all forms of media.
I want to do my part in redressing both the deficiency of and negative judgement inflicted upon women’s stories, so if this is to be part of my contribution, I’m proud to be of service.