Of Genres and Genders

June 3, 2011

Do you think there’s a typically masculine or feminine way to write? Is there a typical male or female reader? Even maybe an inkling of a tendency in either case?  This week in BookSmack, a refreshing tirade from Stacy Alesi (Fiction BackTalk: Summer Reading Sans Gender Stereotypes) caught my notice, taking Library Journal specifically and the bibliographic universe in general to task for promoting reading lists based on sex.  Alesi writes:

As a woman who reads a lot of crime fiction and not a lot of women’s fiction, I have long been accused of reading “guy books,” which, considering my gender, is inaccurate. In close to two decades of dealing with the reading public, the only thing I’ve learned about what men and women read is not to assume anything. So why does LJ feel the need to continue to pigeonhole readers?

This comment about learning not to assume anything about connecting authors and readers based on sex made me think of James Tiptree, Jr., the deliberately misleading pseudonym of the great science fiction writer Alice Bradley Sheldon.   Tiptree/Sheldon avoided public interaction most of her career, and her true identity was a subject of rumor and speculation for years.  When she came out as a woman in the mid-70’s, many had egg on their faces, most especially Robert Silverberg, who once argued

“It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male.”  (Dave, Itzkoff. “Alice’s Alias.” New York Times Book Review (2006): 1. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 June 2011.)

Really Mr. Silverberg, you are going to make a point about essentially masculine writing using words like ineluctably?

But actually, I think Silverberg’s comment was embarrassing only because he dared to profess publicly a bias that we probably all entertain to some extent. Here’s a list of authors I remember assuming were the opposite sex before first glancing at their jacket blurbs:

What’s my sex?

Tracy Hickman

Kim Stanley Robinson

P. D. James (last name threw me)

J. A. Jance

S. E. Hinton

Perri O’Shaughnessy (not only a woman but women plural)

Posted by Darren

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