When it comes to works of fiction, the gender gap is hugely evident. Women comprise 80 percent of fiction reading and purchases, according to surveys conducted in the predominately English speaking countries of Canada, USA and Britain. There are various theories attempting to explain this fiction preference gender gap. Some cognitive psychologists report women possess more abundance of the traits that make fiction more appealing to them. They enjoy being emotionally moved and feeling empathy whereas men prefer facts.
Some experts theorize the start of fiction gender preference begins early. At a young age, girls can sit still for much longer periods of time than boys, says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain. "Girls have an easier time with reading or written work, and it's not a stretch to extrapolate [that] to adult life," Brizendine says. “Indeed, adult women talk more in social settings and use more words than men,” she says futher. "Reading requires…the ability to 'feel into' the characters. That is something women are both more interested in and also better at than men."
Literary critic Lisa Zunshine, offers cognitive science to better understand fiction, with the hypothesis in her book, Why We Read Fiction. Ms. Zunshine suggests fiction as a literary form offers us pleasure because it engages our ability to mind-read, “a term used by cognitive psychologists, interchangeably with ‘Theory of Mind,’ to describe our ability to explain people’s behavior in terms of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires.”
Women are more likely than men to enjoy reading fiction because, “they generally want more input for their Theory-of-Mind adaptations,” says Zunshine. “They want to experience other ‘minds in action’—which is another way of defining ‘empathy’—much more than men do.”
Zunshine underscores the fact that cognitive research in this field is based on “average statistical scores,” and does not mean to absoloutely imply what individual men or women read. Also, she mentioned the biological difference between male and female Theory-of-Mind is small, and accounts for a theory of “somewhat greater” preference for fiction among women.
Regardless of why, the facts indicate women read the vast majority of fiction and yet, the mainstay of novels accepted by literary publishers and the opinions of fiction are written by men. As Lakshmi Chaudhry in the magazine, In These Times, wrote, "Unlike the gods of the literary establishment who remain predominately male—both as writers and critics—their humble readers are overwhelmingly female."
As a woman, a voracious reader and multi-genre author, I would like to believe my opinions count. Perhaps, we might consider genre fiction as the last bastion of the gender gap that began to crumble in the 1970’s. As with our stance then for equal rights, we should embrace our preferences as women and not be ashamed of enjoying fiction in any genre, be it romance or erotica or chick lit or mystery.
Nor should we view the voice of male literary critics important, with their evident support of male authored novels and discriminatory opinions of genre fiction.
Let us always remember, it’s what women read that generates success in the fiction publishing industry. The bottom line: until men begin reading and buying genre as we do, women make it a sustainable and viable business.
If women were to stop reading, the industry would absolutely crash and fold. Hark yea men of elitist literature, only women readers could put it back together again.
MC HallidayDeep, sometimes dark, always delicious tales of women through the ages http://members.shaw.ca/mchalliday/
HE KING'S DAUGHTER ~ Samhain Publishing
A BRIBE AGAINST THE INNOCENT ~DI Octavia Cambridge Mystery: Volume I
http://www.darkedenpress.com/genre_mainstream_myst-crime.html 2007 P&E Reader Polls voted # 5 Best Mystery Novel
A LION FROM THE FOREST ~DI Octavia Cambridge Mystery: Volume II http://www.darkedenpress.com/auth_mc-halliday.html
I CAME UP STAIRS ~A Victorian Courtesan's Memoirs: Book I http://www.darkedenpress.com/book_mc-halliday-i-came-up-stairs.html
Book trailers for THE KING'S DAUGHTER, A BRIBE AGAINST THE INNOCENT, A LION FROM THE FOREST and I CAME UP STAIRS at: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=authormchalliday
Sources for facts and quotes used in this post: Why Hemingway Is Chick-Lit/Women read more fiction than men by Lakshmi Chaudhry In These Times August 16, 2006 Why Women Read More Than Men by Eric Weiner September 5, 2007 NPR.org