Wondering Wall: Does an author’s gender matter?

Wondering Wall: Does an author’s gender matter?

I stumbled across Ann Aguirre’s blog entry on GoodReads. For those of you who don’t know, she is a fairly prolific science fiction writer of series such as Razorlands and Sirantha Jax. She’s been receiving criticism because as a female she has dared to write science fiction. According to her post, this is just one example out of many where she has been belittled and made to feel ashamed because of her lady bits.  She has even started receiving hate mail since writing this post. The fact that such a popular author is taking a stand makes me wonder how many others are quietly suffering the same form of discrimination. My wondering wall for today though is whether an author’s gender really matters.  The short answer is yes.

I think that an author’s gender does matter if they were writing in a pre-twentieth century environment. Societal roles that people were expected to adopt given their gender were quite disparate and this would most likely be reflected in the author’s writing. If someone were to tell me that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was actually written by a man using a nom de plume then I would quite frankly be impressed. The tone and detailed information regarding areas in the female sphere of influence such as housekeeping and fashion etc make it seem quite feminine in nature. Likewise, if a woman in the same era wrote a book concerning male pursuits and successfully imitated the style of male writers, I would applaud. Over the last century however, the lines delineating male and female spheres of influence have blurred to the point that neither gender holds privileged information. The author’s gender should no longer matter but unfortunately it still does.

Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey, who write under the pseudonym of Magnus Flyte, stated they were afraid they would lose male readers if they published under their real names as men prefer to read books by other men whereas women do not make such a distinction (Wall Street Journal). This concern was echoed by a Penguin editor. The article itself is interesting and well worth a read even though it highlights readers’ superficiality.

Obviously this is nothing new as even the Bronte sisters used false names and J.K. Rowling resorted to using her initials so as not to alienate young male readers. The reverse also holds true as men such as Bill Spence resort to pen names when writing in ‘gentler’ genres such as romance and cozy mysteries (Daily Mail).  Providing the author is popular enough to weather the tide of disapproval if their real sex is revealed, no one seems to mind if they come out of the closet. Still other authors choose a variety of names so that readers will not be confused by a change in genre. Branding in this respect is simple common sense.

So where does all of this leave the beleaguered Ms Aguirre? Her popularity is such that petty harassment and refusal to buy her books should not affect her significantly in the hip pocket BUT the emotional effects are a completely different issue. Her treatment amounts to bullying and should be unacceptable in today’s society.  I’ll end here as commenting on the significant gender discrimination which permeates many other fields would turn into a rant rather than a wondering wall and there are no easy solutions to reprogramming bigots.

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