I just read an interesting blog post by a young female sci-fi author that really made me think. Not just about women and pen names and authorship woes, but about our society as a whole. I do that a lot. It’s something you end up doing when you major in psychology.
I encourage you to read the article I linked, because it really is worth the 5 minutes it will take out of your usual internet browsing routine. But to paraphrase, it talks about how female authors in general, but more specifically those who write in traditionally male-dominated genres, are disregarded purely because of their gender. The author recounts how, when she was browsing a bookstore trying to see how other authors were styling their names on book covers these days, she overheard some young men just down the isle. They picked up a book, said that it looked interesting…and then put it down because, oh, it was written by a woman.
If that doesn’t make you at least a little irritated, then you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Hi, I’m a girl, too. The author posits, and I would agree, that female writers are overlooked because of the stereotype that women write nothing but “trashy” romance novels and girly fantasies revolving around fairies and princesses and talking unicorns.
Some women authors do write that stuff. And that’s totally fine. It’s their book, their passion, and their name on the cover. They can write whatever they want. But here’s the kicker: some men write that kind of “fluffy girly stuff” too. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks became a bestseller and then the name of one of the biggest chick flicks in recent times. So don’t give me some BS about how only women write girly books. “Girly books” really don’t exist. There are books. The end.
I think it is a sign of how far our society hasn’t progressed when we judge a book literally by its cover. Or really, by the author on its cover. We make a lot of noise about how we’ve created equality for women, about how we’ve broken the glass ceiling, blah blah blah. But its just noise. Without getting into a huge psycho-political rant about how women are paid less than men and have less opportunity in the workplace than men (believe me, I could rant), I want to point out that a society which discards a book based on the gender of the author is not a society in which women are viewed as equals.
Many people will insist that they don’t care about an author’s gender. Many people would be right. But when enough people do it that women authors feel the need to change or disguise their name in order to sell respectable numbers of books, then there is an issue. I don’t know where this issue arises. There are plenty of wonderful, deep, talented writers who are also women. An author’s gender has nothing to do with the quality of work they put out. That’s like saying an author with long hair writes worse than one with short hair, or that authors with freckles aren’t as good as those with flawless skin. It’s simply irrelevant.
We live in an age where one of the wealthiest, most successful authors of all time is a woman. Hello, Ms. Rowling, here’s lookin’ at you. Apparently her success isn’t enough to make people stop and think before discarding a book written by a woman.
I’m writing this because I, a girl, have desires to one day publish novels. And I have no interest in those novels being about princesses or fairies or purple unicorns that fart rainbows. I would love it if someone picked up my book, thumbed through the pages, read the synopsis, and went, “Yeah, this looks cool.” Not, “Oh, it’s written by a girl. Ew.”
I have always sort of figured that when I get around to publishing, I will use some variant of my legal name. Somehow I never really wanted my full name sitting on a book cover for everyone to see. But after reading what this author wrote, I decided it was for the best if my pen name was gender neutral. I’ll probably follow in the footsteps of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. Initial, initial, surname. Nice and simple. And maybe it will encourage people to open the book before they make snap judgements based on the gender of the author.