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On The Gender Of Authors And Their Characters

The painting of the three Bronte sisters with Branwell Bronte's image washed out.  I've edited the picture so that Branwell's ghostly remains have a big cross over them and the sisters each have a halo

I am beginning to suppose, in both a sort of acceptance way and a full-understanding way, that I seem to have an issue with males where books are concerned. This does not alarm me, since it is less than the idea of the stereotypical male reader who will not read a book written by a woman, but it does give me a lot to think about.

I fully admit that I am more likely to be intrigued to pick up a book if the author is female. It’s something I’ve realised on thinking about how I browse bookshops and I reckon it’s a question of relating. I know I am (statistically) more likely to relate to a book written by a women because I am a woman. No matter whether the female author’s main character is female, or male, I will read the book. But I am also likely to pick up a book written by a man if the main character is female. This is because on most occasions my experience of men writing about women has been positive, although I have witnessed some atrocities. That said, I know I am going to be less aware if a female author writes poorly of a male character because of course I am female and while I can assess much, I do not have a man’s brain.

If I have read and liked a book about a woman written by a male author, I will likely pick up a book by that same author about a male character. This being because I know that that author has already shown he is okay with women, that he relates to me, that he accepts female readers. To put this in author terms, I will happily read anything Philip Pullman writes because by and large he writes female characters that I can relate to. And while I did not always appreciate Simon Montefiore’s handling of the sexuality of his female lead in Sashenka, I like that Montefiore at least made a good attempt and thus I would likely pick up another book written by him.

So this boils down to male author plus male character. Do I read many of them? No. I do have a few favourites, for example I love Roald Dahl’s books, and while David Eddings’s work may not be flawless, I like his too. But I will be less likely to pick them up than, say, Jane Austen, a female who writes well about women.

In fact it is Victorian literature that made me chew this subject over in a detailed way. I had just started my first Dickens’, Great Expectations, and while I liked the story, Pip was getting on my nerves and so was the author. Part of this was due to Pip’s age at the time and his way of discussing the world, but I also found Dickens’ writing completely different to the Brontës, Gaskell, and Austen in ways I hadn’t prepared for.

Interestingly, none of what I’ve said above applies to my approach to non-fiction. Where non-fiction is concerned the gender of the author and their subject is of no consequence to whether or not I will pick the book up. I can only assume it is due to the oft-academic writing style employed by all.

It’s odd, I think, that I’ve only just started to notice this, and I don’t think that I have always been like it. I wondered if it was weird but I suppose it’s understandable.

Is there a difference in the number of books you read per gender?

In case you’re wondering, I did check if Branwell Brontë had written a book before using the image, and he had so hopefully it’s acceptable…



September 12, 2012, 10:29 am

This is a really interesting point, one I hadn’t really thought about before. As such I decided to compare what I have read so far this year. My findings are not that conclusive, male to female author ratio is pretty even. I have read more female authors by just two books this year. I like to think I don’t pick books because of the gender of the author. I can agree with you thought that I am drawn to stories with a female protagonist more if they are written by a woman.

Tanya Patrice

September 12, 2012, 11:08 am

I’ve been keeping track of the books I read monthly including the male/female author ratio, and it’s heavily skewed towards females … maybe because I’m one? Either way, this wasn’t a conscious decision, so I’m going to try reading more books by men in the months ahead, to try and even things out a little. I like Gaiman’s style from the one book I’ve read of his, so he’s on my list to read more from. Also Jonathan Maberry.


September 12, 2012, 2:03 pm

Interesting question, it makes sense to enjoy reading characters that resonate with you, for whatever reason (experience, perspective) etc. I think I’m pretty divided – often enjoy the familiarity and ease of reading stories by/about women, but sometimes enjoy stories by/about men because they are different! but really in the end comes down to the writer and writing – and the pool of books and authors is way too big and too profoundly varied to generalize.


September 12, 2012, 6:49 pm

I do think I read more women than men, but I normally don’t have a problem with the way the men I read write women. I have put books down because of the way the women were written.


September 12, 2012, 7:14 pm

I read vastly more books written by women, but the trend hasn’t always been skewed in that direction. In fact, I quite like books about men written by men, but I think it’s as you say, I’m somewhat naturally drawn to female writers and female characters. It’s not something I notice when I’m choosing books, but the trend becomes apparent when I step back and look at all of my reading.

Judith / Leeswammes

September 12, 2012, 7:42 pm

Interesting! This year I’ve started keeping track of some of the statistics of the books that I read, and gender is one of the things I look at. I read roughly 50% of each. When I was in my 30s I read 80-90% female, but now it’s very equal. Unlike you, I’m fine with male authors/male characters although recently I’ve read too much contemporary fiction about men who want to escape from their middle-aged life1 :-)


September 12, 2012, 9:27 pm

I don’t deliberately choose to read books based on the gender of the author, but I’ve been keeping some statistics this year and so far 77% of the books I’ve read in 2012 were written by women. I’m surprised that the percentage is so high, so it seems that maybe I do naturally gravitate towards female authors without it being a conscious decision.


September 12, 2012, 9:46 pm

Comment tangent: It is strange you should post this, because I was thinking today about if I ever wrote a novel, what would I put as my author name. I ended up deciding that I would use initials for my first name to disguise my gender so men wouldn’t be put off reading or I readers wouldn’t assume my novel would be too feminine. Then I became depressed that I would have to resort to not putting my full name because of both of those silly reasons; a name shouldn’t denote quality or substance.

I am quite annoyed at myself really because, even though if I were an author I wouldn’t want my gender to interfere with a persons decision on reading my book, I seem to do the same thing.

I find, from analysing my reading list, I tend to gravitate towards male authors. I think this may be because I tend not to enjoy chick-lit or anything I think could involve conventional/modern romance, which unfortunately I associate (probably due to society’s influence – though this is not an excuse) with women. Protagonist wise, the gender doesn’t tend to both me, I can connect to either.


September 13, 2012, 10:59 pm

Very interesting post, Charlie!

Definitely posed a lot to chew on.
I tend to bear an open mind about many things, and that probably translates into my choice of literature and author too. I’m almost never gender-specific about my picks. What grabs me about a book, especially of late, is the writer’s technique of writing and literary merit; a good plot, good story-telling, and also content that would be engaging and leave me (imaginatively, intellectually and inspirationally) breathless.
I read quite widely, no discrimination there but I stand alongside Alice when it comes to chick lit; fanfic doesn’t tickle me either and both those modes are carried by female writers. If that’s anything to go by.
Also, I’ve tossed and turned over the use of my name too, as author. The thought certainly creates an uncomfortable feeling of despondency.

With all that said, I’ve mostly read books by male authors this year yet they were mostly centered around female characters and narratives. Other forms of literature I’ve read were mostly by women writers.


September 16, 2012, 1:24 pm

I don’t have a conscious preference, although I probably read more novels written by men with a male protagonist. I don’t need to be able to relate to a character in order to enjoy the narrative. I’m not in the least bit “girly” so that probably accounts for my taste in books. :)


September 16, 2012, 5:40 pm

I read mostly men, significantly more men. I don’t know why – and I tend to be a little put of female authors. It’s something I feel bad about – as a woman because I feel that I should be more balanced a reader and women are terrible under-represented.

However… at the same time I don’t really care and I feel bad about that. I can’t make myself read a book just because the author is female. I read a book because it sounds interesting.

However, looking at my favourite books (I have a list) half a by male and half are by female which makes me feel a little bit better.

I would say that yearly – over half of the books I read and authors I read are male. I dunno what this is. I wouldn’t call myself particularly feminine, but I’m no tomboy. Maybe I wrongly perceive female authors to be more emotional and I don’t really like overly emotional books.

Hmm. I have pondered this before and I don’t know the answers. Maybe it is just chance – male books are more prominent? Female authors are relegated to ‘chick lit’ or ‘women’s literature and given pink or pastel coloured overs. I dislike washed out covers or wispy fonts which is what most female authors seem to get treated to here in the UK, at least.


September 16, 2012, 11:16 pm

What a fantastic post! I don’t know that I read one gender over another – I used to be very balanced between the two but now I read more feminist and women’s history, so the scales have tipped slightly.

In novels, though, I am often highly critical of the female characters. Especially in fiction of a historical era or people writing today about women of a previous era, I usually DESPISE the way that women are portrayed. So I’m quite picky but I don’t think I am that way about men as much…


September 17, 2012, 12:35 pm

Jessica: I’m actually pretty envious of your fair ratio. Yes, it’s the “drawn to” factor rather than anything else, I’d love to say something completely conclusive but it isn’t that way.

Tanya: Gaiman’s a big favourite and from what I know he sounds very readable. I think it’s exactly what you say, female so female authors, and whilst it’s not fair if we do compare it to the male to male stereotype there is surely a natural element to it.

Jennifer: Yes, there is a difference. I know that as much as I wasn’t keen on Dickens’s Pip, I did come to appreciate the style of writing that Victorian women didn’t express (Dickens’ rambling aside). That’s true, a complete generalisation is impossible, you can’t just put both genders on different sides of the fence.

Liviania: Yes, I think it’s about finding the right male authors, and there are a lot of them, admittedly. And women undoubtedly write about men wrongly, but as women we are less likely to see it. Unless a woman writes about a man who won’t pick up his socks or some such mundane stereotypical issue, we could well miss it.

Meghan: That’s the thing, until you really think about it or prime yourself to take note it can pass you by and you don’t even realise. You’ve made me remember my younger days when, as far as the books I can remember would suggest, I read work by male authors more. Hmm… this makes me wonder if it could have something to do with age and the discovery of how history has treated women, because there could always be an unconscious part to it.

Judith: Maybe then keeping track of it might help me claw back some fairness? Interesting what you’ve read, as you’ve made me realise it’s the same with me. Perhaps as a whole there is a lot of work written about getting away from the daily grind and the stereotypical gender roles create more about the male side of this equation?

Helen: That’s an interesting statistic, and I’m intrigued as to how you can keep track without feeling pressure to choose certain genders! I’m feeling the need to explore this whole topic further with all these comments being so divided.

Alice: “What would I put as my author name” – this. There is most definitely still that idea that if you’ve a female name (speaking as someone who is often considered a male until an in-person meeting) you’re somewhat defining your destiny before publication. Unfortunately it does seem as though you can decide you don’t want gender to come into it but it will be inevitable, and even if you yourself didn’t think it, others would.

I like your honest answer, and whilst I’m okay with the odd chick-lit I can understand where you’re coming from. Actually, in a way, society’s influence is a good excuse, because it tends to be something we don’t choose to exercise over ourselves, we’re born into it.

Lucinda: Literary merit is a good thing to go on, I do sometimes go for technique but must admit I haven’t thought of merit. You’re right on fan-fiction, which is weird in a way because there is surely just as much scope in fiction written by males to intrigue male readers. I wonder if the stereotype of fan-fiction being about romantic relationships puts men and, incidentally non-romance, writers off. Interesting thing to think about. Yes, choosing your name as a female writer has a lot of pressure, sadly. Your books this year are interesting, especially as some times it can be difficult to find male writer-female character books.

Violet: Interesting to have the opposite side of the debate! The girly factor could make a difference, I suppose.

Fiona: Oh I agree, reading female authors because you feel bad rather than because you’re interested wouldn’t be good at all, better that it’s natural. In some cases female authors are more emotional, that’s a fact, and they tend to be the more publicised/popular ones, so your perception is understandable; as I said to Alice, it’s not so much our choice as it is the values instilled in us by our culture and society. I would say you have a point in males being more prominent, often unless you want to read chick-lit or weak-heroine YA you do have to make an effort to find female authors. And yes, those covers are overused, it’s sad when they aren’t just relegated to chick-lit. And I say that as someone who reads chick-lit on occasion and enjoys it.

Aarti: That makes sense, your interests in regards to reading and learning will naturally draw you to female authors. Historical women as long as they’re portrayed accurately is okay, though it’s difficult to read. Unfortunately I think dystopian books with poor female leads are doing us all a big disfavour.



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