The Gender Segregation of Literature

{By Brittany Sadler}


I’ve always been a bookworm, a words-lover, an inveterate reader that still doesn’t quite accept e-readers.

Libraries and book stores make me happy.

Like most readers-of-books, I have a deep (bordering on worshipful) respect for the great authors. And I have noticed a disturbing trend.

It has become popular to gender segregate books.

I understand this when it comes to the poorly written, mass produced “trash” novels (and I’m not exempting Christian novels). All you have to do is take one look at the cover and you can file the book neatly into a slot labeled “girls” or “boys.” The modern publishing industry has had great monetary success creating books for niches and categories of society. But then I noticed something else. This odd, juvenile extension of the toddler’s mantra “but that’s for girls!” has begun to encroach on classic literature.

The most obvious example has to be Jane Austen and her novels, which have enjoyed a recent surge in popularity. I certainly don’t have a problem with more people reading great books, but the consequences of this popularity have been rather unexpected.  People have started classifying and treating her novels as mere girlish romances, on the same level as the much-hated/much-loved Twilight series. Rather than read by everyone as the insightful, clever, beautifully written books that they are, her novels have become seen as a girls-only territory of cheap romance with guys often avoiding them at all costs.

But it hasn’t been confined to Jane Austen. Authors of all types have suffered. Female authors seem particularly prone to being gender – segregated. There seems to be a general idea that if a book is written by a woman, then it was written only for a female audience. Girls write girl books. And somehow, reading a book written by a woman is less “manly” than reading a book by a man. This is as untrue as the idea that a book by a male author, even about male subjects, is therefore written only to an audience of men. A man’s book. Truly great books written by truly great authors, whether they are male or female, deserve to be read and respected by everyone.

Literature isn’t inherently feminine or masculine, it’s human.

I’m not claiming that men and women don’t tend to write different types of book, focused on different things – I’m saying that that should not define the audience. I have read many, many books written by men, about men, and dealing with “male” subjects and have loved them. Reading and enjoying books written from a perspective different than my own, dealing with issues I might not otherwise have considered doesn’t make me more masculine, it broadens me. That is the beauty of literature. By putting Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot in one pile with William MakepeaceThackeray, Ernest Hemingway, and Alexandre Dumas in another, we have created an artificial, and eventually damaging, barrier between authors and ideas. Books and ideas are inextricable linked and neither have a gender.

So I have a challenge: Girls – read some great literature by a man about masculine subjects, Guys – crack open Jane Austen or another fantastic female author. Read the books, think about them, learn from them. I guarantee you won’t have wasted your time.