Is ‘Women’s Fiction’ an Acceptable Term?

What comes to mind when you hear “Women’s Fiction?” For a long time, the unnecessary genre identifier went hand-in-hand with the groan-worthy so-called “chick-lit” distinction. Often, it conjures up images of a woman’s never-ending search for the perfect man and the perfect pair of shoes. The distinction is decidedly not in reference to riveting prose slated to become the Next Great American Novel. Or so the book industry seemingly wants you to believe.

Not only is that sexist, outdated rhetoric, it’s frankly misleading. Leading writers and editors, like Jodi Picoult and Marian Keyes,  are #talkingaboutit. Trisha Brown of Book Riot published an op-ed titled, “Hey Book Industry: ‘Women’s Fiction’ is Not a Thing” where she outlined five distinct reasons the book industry needs to drop the identifier A.S.A.P: It’s arbitrary, it’s sexist, it’s gender-binary, Its blatant stereotyping ultimately impacts sales, and dropping it would be an easy fix! 


Brown explains her wariness over the term in one succinct punch:


“Think of it this way: if you were book browsing and encountered a category called ‘Fiction by people with brown eyes,’ you’d probably think it was strange. The same is probably true of sections of fiction specifically about ‘People Who Are Taller than Average,’ or ‘People Who Live in the US Central Time Zone.’


Each of those categories has a commonality, but it has nothing to do with the kind of fiction a person would want to read. And yet (perhaps you’ve guessed where I’m going with this), there is an entire subset of fiction that has been grouped together based on the sex or gender identity of the author or characters.”


Jodi Picoult, on the other hand, is often billed as a women’s fiction writer, and is also outspoken on the problems attached to that distinction. Picoult, known for masterful novels that cover topics such as stem cell research, eugenics, the Holocaust, high school shootings, and more, finds it difficult to grasp the fact that she is lumped in with a category that encompasses roughly 49.6 percent of the world’s population.

In a November 2014 article with The Telegraph, Picoult denounced the phrase “women’s fiction” in reference to her work: “‘I write women’s fiction,’ she says, an ‘apparently’ hanging in the air. ‘And women’s fiction doesn’t mean that’s your audience. Unfortunately, it means you have lady parts.’”

What are your thoughts on women’s fiction? Let us know in the comments!


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